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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Masterpiece of SF: "Brain Child" by George Turner (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


"David Chance, the unknowing offspring of a long-forgotten experiment that produced genetically engineered child geniuses, learns terrible secrets about his own conception and discovers the horrifying course that human history is taking."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I find it hard to say how many times I have read Brain Child - I would guess that the recent April 2012 reread was my 7th or 8th, but possibly more, though it was the first after the 4 year intensive sff reading/reviewing here at FBC, so I was curious how the novel will stand versus more modern sff - and the book still stands tall so to speak deserving its place on my all time favorite list - place that also covers the rest of the retro-near-future Australia sequence of George Turner comprising The Destiny Makers, Drowning Towers, Genetic Soldier and the posthumous Down There in Darkness.
   
Brain Child takes place in a sort of retro-future Australia of the 2040's with climate change, overpopulation and no Internet, but the power of the narrative, the extraordinarily compelling style of the author, the superbly drawn characters and the twists and turns of the story spiced with a few nuggets of eternal wisdom (power corrupts, who do you trust to watch the watchers etc) make this a top-top sfnal novel.

The story seems straightforward - in 2002 the government created super-babies of which 3 (quadruplet and related in-between like sort of cousins) groups of two girls, two boys A, B, C survived; group A turned to be good at science and group B at art but outside a few social dysfunctions they were within normal human parameters and were released at 18, while now in the 2040's they are reclusive and working for the government in group A case and just reclusive in group B case.

David Chance, young upcoming journalist raised into an upscale orphanage - under the population laws extra children born without permits become charge of the state and are raised in orphanages and of course the rich people's "indiscretions" get better orphanages - gets summoned by Arthur Hazard (of group A, not to speak of the pun of the surnames plus the letter D in David) who declares that he is his father though not by intention as he was experimenting with sex when 18, a girl wanted to keep hold of him etc... 

So David did not get aborted as the girl concealed her pregnancy and he is the only known child of the groups, while now he has to undertake the mission he was raised for and subtly influenced from young age when his existence became known to Arthur and the government (so his education was subtly directed to turn him towards journalism etc). After a bit of recriminations and feeling upset, David is hooked on the mission and the adventure starts.

The mission? Well, remember group C; they were true posthumans, super-powerful, unknowable and the humans in charge got scared and kept them isolated, but at age 18 one of them, Conrad escaped to unknown hereabouts; returning a few months later he conferred with his group - nobody knows what about since once Conrad returned his group, which until them accepted the humans surveillance and later harsh interrogation up to torture, now isolated itself and accepted only one nurse as point of contact - and then they committed suicide - they just stopped living. However, Conrad tantalizingly mentioned a "legacy" to the nurse and only a few like Armstrong, the scummy politician that originated the project and who kept that nurse on his private payroll and the Hazards knew about that...

Said legacy may have to do with human immortality or at least control of DNA and genetics, while David is also nudged to find out what happened to Conrad in his months away and why group C committed suicide on return. Just awesome and with so many twists and turns and a "jaw breaking" denouement that is still powerful on the 8th reading or so.

All George Turner's books mentioned above in this sequence are superb, still relevant and highly readable though Brain Child is still the one that stayed with me the most.
 

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