In this two-novel sci-fi saga, selectively bred human/animal genetic hybrids plot to break free of their surveillance and exploitation.
Wozniak (The Gardener of Nahi, 2013, etc.) previously published this dense saga in separate volumes, The Perihelion and An Obliquity. The first finishes at a high point; the second picks up moments later. Gene-spliced together, they constitute a 700-plus-page epic spanning mainly one catastrophic day in early 2069. Medical science has experimented with blended human/animal DNA, yielding a few boons (a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease), but mainly generating a handful of much-feared, genetically modified hybrids incorrectly called 99ers—for 99 percent human. (Readers are told that “an average 99er would have to have twenty times more animal genes in their DNA” to be truly considered “99% human.”) Like the android replicants of Philip K. Dick, these mutants are close to Homo sapiens but harbor personality/physiological disorders, in addition to the traits making them valuable in espionage and dangerous dirty work. But society regards the hybrids as nonhuman, to be tightly regulated and constantly monitored. Gavivi, a snoopy “hummingbird”—not a hybrid but a freelance video reporter wet-wired into an airborne spy mini-cam—senses an international scheme to kill all the badly flawed “leopard” 99ers and wants to expose the conspiracy for fortune and fame. Meanwhile, Aspen, gifted with radiation-resilient wasp DNA, plots an escape for herself and fellow hybrids, even if an entire city must fall to a weapon of mass destruction. Formerly Chicago, the endangered city is now a high-tech “Bluecore 1C” metropolis in a disunited America, where wealthy, elitist liberals live. The more rural, working-class, socially conservative folks reside in the “Redlands.” Longtime bestseller readers may experience déjà vu and recall James Clavell’s super-sized, non-sci-fi Noble House as Wozniak’s diverse, well-drawn characters—ranging from a trendy but fraudulent photographer to a Roman Catholic priest once forcibly conscripted as an African child soldier— are swept into the 99er-pocalypse. The author’s richly detailed canvas explores religion, redemption, aesthetics, parenthood, relationships, and (naturally) the meaning of being human. If his Big Ideas reach sometimes exceeds his grasp, there are still more solid thematic hits than misses here. In a few peculiar asides, the actual land itself comments on the action and what God wants, and it’s impressive that even this risky gambit works as well as it does.
A massive, thoughtful sci-fi saga, weighty in more ways than one but rewarding.