So after not winning one in Edward Willett‘s giveaway, and not finding one at any local bookstores, I finally picked up a copy of Marseguro at McNally Robinson in Saskatoon. I bumped it to the top of my reading pile (only six books at the moment) because I’d enjoyed his previous scifi outing, Lost In Translation.
Willett once again crafts a world that is believable in the extension of technology that exists presently – in this case, genetic modification. In the book, a brilliant scientist named Victor Hansen creates a race of aquatic humans through “genesculpting”. Shortly after their creation, a fanatical religion rises up on Earth and declares that all genetic experimentation is an abomination to The Body Purified. Hansen and his Selkies (the name for the water-dwellers – origin never revealed) escape the tyrannical Body to the water world of Marseguro (Portuguese for “safe sea”), where for fifty years before the events of the novel, they’ve hidden from the authorities on Earth.
The book opens with the sending of a distress signal from Marseguro to Earth by a Body fanatic hidden among the population of Marseguro (leading The Body Purified to the hidden colony). Whereas most of the normal humans (nonmods) on the planet had come to an understanding with the Selkies, Chris Keating’s family ingrained in him the fear and loathing of genetically modified “abominations.” His disgust is fueled by incidences of bullying by the Selkies his age and a paranoid suspicion that they were behind the death of his father, also a Body believer. Keating is the most genuinely unlikable character in the book, and is a good foil for the protagonists, Richard Hansen (grandson of Victor Hansen) and Emily Wood, a Selkie.
Each of the characters is presented throughout the story with situations that challenge their preconceived notions of what’s right and wrong, and while Richard and Emily are able to look past their own prejudices, Keating is so devoted to his inner measure of “good” and “bad” that he rationalises away anything that would challenge his beliefs.
The book is well-plotted, the action and reveals flow nicely along, keeping the reader interested. The romance angle was a little too Montague/Capulet for me (though Willett’s ends better than the Bard’s) — I would have been happy with a solid friendship between the two main characters. The ethical dilemmas presented echo those of Lost In Translation – racism, prejudice, tolerance, violence as a means to an end, fanaticism – but are put in play in such a way that the reader feels it necessary to wrestle with the issues alongside the character. If the reader comes to a different conclusion than the protagonist in some of the situations, it is not because Willett has written his characters into a corner from which there is only one way out, rather it is the availability of choices which makes the ones the protagonists follow ultimately so meaningful.
Well worth the read, I highly recommend Marseguro and am anticipating the sequel Terra Insegura (meaning unsafe land?) due out next year.