A medium-future exploration of the effects of genetic engineering, which first appeared in Russian in 1999, from the Moscow-resident author of Night Watch (2013, etc.).
Many genetic modifications, from street sweeper to starship pilot, are available in the 22nd century; known as “speshes,” they kick in during early adolescence and provide the recipients with enormously enhanced abilities appropriate to the spesh. Pilot-spesh Alex Romanov, discharged from a hospital on planet Quicksilver Pit after a horrific accident, runs into Kim O’hara, a 14-year-old fugitive from planet Edem who is on the verge of her metamorphosis into a fighter-spesh. Compelled by his spesh to help her, Alex takes her to a cheap hotel and watches over her as he searches for work. Surprisingly, an attractive prospect materializes—as captain of a flying saucer with the right to select his own crew. He discovers, meanwhile, that Kim is carrying a computer crystal worth a fortune. With few candidates to choose from, he quickly hires a co-pilot, a navigator, an engineer, a doctor and Kim as a fighter, but he has doubts about them all—especially when his commission turns out to involve conveying a pair of VIP insectlike Zzygou, a formerly hostile race, on a tour of human-occupied planets. And when one of the Zzygou is gruesomely murdered, a galactic war threatens; worse, Alex learns, none of his crew members are what they seem, and each had a powerful motive to commit the crime. The narrative moves briskly and often mysteriously, with a curiously boyish enthusiasm. Add in splashes of humor, quirky references to Western cultural tropes and a true-to-life conclusion that leaves many of the surviving characters deeply dissatisfied yet optimistic.
Not quite up to the standard of Russia’s greatest science-fiction writers (such as the Strugatsky brothers) but nonetheless refreshingly different and something of a page-turner: well worth investigating.