Four semi-intertwined novellas featuring genetically engineered dogs and a troubled family.
Jenna and her brother, Del, live in a future England ravaged by war and environmental disaster. The seaside town they live in, Sapphire, is dominated by illegal greyhound racing. The dogs, called “smartdogs,” are genetically modified with human DNA, facilitating a telepathic link with humans whose brains have been implanted with special chips. Jenna’s and her brother’s lives quickly unravel, though, when their niece, Maree, is kidnapped. This tautly written first novella creates a brilliantly weird world that’s utterly riveting—which makes it especially disappointing when the next one reveals that everything you’ve read was created by a woman named Christy, who lives in present-day England with her brother, Derek. Christy dreamed up that world to escape from her life after her mother abandoned their family and her brother became increasingly violent. When Derek’s girlfriend vanishes, Christie suspects the worst. This story should be fraught, but instead it’s flabby and inert, save for a stomach-turning assault that feels as if it’s only there to shock. The next novella jumps ahead 20 years and is told from the point of view of Alex, who’s acquainted with Derek’s vanished girlfriend. Christy seeks him out to determine what happened to her, but instead the narrative gets bogged down by details of Alex’s life and an unsubtle, tin-eared examination of the racism he’s experienced. The final novella returns to the first’s dystopian future, although readers will likely find it difficult to work up enthusiasm for this now doubly fictional world. Maree is now a young adult with no memory of her family. She’s able to communicate with smartdogs without a neural implant and was raised with other psychic children as part of a scientific program. When she finds out details of her past, she’s left to decide her own fate. The book ends with a baffling and extraneous appendix of short pieces drawn from both fictional universes, which read like writing exercises that were never meant to see the light of day.
One spectacular sci-fi novella dragged down by three tedious ones.