“Gene Pool” by A. E. Price

This is a story about an imaginary future where gene manipulation has created an elite class in which every child’s genetic characteristics are chosen at fertilization. The result is a heavily segregated caste system, where the non-modified are treated as less than human. This provides grist for all sorts of thematic material, but that conflict is so closely tied to the external and internal conflicts in the story that it makes its point without feeling preachy. The novel is structured with several plot strands that are to varying degrees separate from each other, and all work together in the finale.

I do have one complaint about the various plot strands. It is usual in novels to assume that, unless otherwise clearly indicated, all timelines start at the beginning of the story. In this novel we only find out later in the story that the various characters are not on parallel courses. We suddenly realize that one set of events must have been happening in the past, because there is a gap of several months, and then familiar events from the beginning of the book begin to occur. To be fair,  none of these gaps affect the progress of the plot, but they come as a shock, and the reader cannot escape the niggling sensation that the author has been rather loose with our sense of time.

A strength of the work is the character development, especially of the heroine, Anya and her Nomod ally, Ben. These two personalities are realistic by our real-world criteria, so we feel connected to both, and we become invested in the reconciliation of their conflicts. It is crucial to the conflict and the theme that these qualities develop in a naturalistic way, and the author seamlessly blends the process with the social and political changes happening in their society.

In other reviews, I have found “video game” plotlines to be lacking in proper build of suspense, but in this story, I have to say the technique has been assimilated into the novel form beautifully. There is one story strand that functions like a video game, but the conflict intensifies as the levels rise, and the other story arcs continue, with the conflicts escalating and the tension rising to a tense, action-filled climax.

The novel reaches a reasonably satisfying ending, with most of the plot strands tied up, leaving just a few enticing ends waving around, waiting for the sequel to be settled.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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