You are special. You are unique. And you have been selected.

In the near-future, matter transmitter technology has all but saved humanity after we ran out of resources in the aftermath of the Water Wars. We don’t need to plant, produce and build anything anymore since fabbers create everything you could ever want at no cost at all. Everybody is connected via Air and any type of entertainment is available in the blink of an eye and anybody can go anywhere instantly using matter transmitters (d-matt) booths.

Clair and Libby are best friends who come across a new meme that promises kids the only thing they don’t have in this perfect future: a chance to improve themselves, to change their bodies to become taller, stronger, more beautiful. Libby is determined to give the Improvement Meme a try but when things don’t exactly turn out as planned and she shows signs of having changed more than superficially, Clair decides to investigate what exactly this meme is and what has it done to Libby.

This leads her down the proverbial rabbit role as she finds out that the life she appreciates so much is not without its costs and that d-matt might in fact be dangerous in the way that it could change people fundamentally and irrevocably.        

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Taken at face value, Twinmaker is a fun thriller whose central focus is the relationship between Libby and Clair or, more to the point, the dedication that the latter shows in saving the former. In doing so, Clair becomes a great protagonist who goes from follower to leader, developing agency, displaying critical skills that become more entertaining as the fast-paced plot moves along.

The most interesting thing to me about Twinmaker is the way that Clair’s viewpoint changes: We are at first dumped into a world that seems perfect but the more Clair learns about it, the more we realize that this future is more dystopian than utopian. And it raises really thought-provoking questions about the matter transmitters and the way they function, the way that genetic code can be used as data, the way that the safety barriers put in place to prevent their misusing might not be that safe after all. It is also a story that tackles issues like identity, beauty and self-image. 

Which brings me to two points that prevent Twinmaker from being a complete success. 

Despite the fact that the Twinmaker moves along swiftly and entertainingly, it is quite difficult to buy into the premise of the Improvement Meme or Libby’s motivation for using it: She wants to have the birthmark on her face removed so that she can be truly beautiful. So much of the plot relies on believing on this motivation, but think on this: This is a future where technology is so advanced that teleportation—actual dissolution and restoration of complex genetic matter—is a fact of everyday life, so you’d think that plastic surgery is something these folks could do with their hands tied behind their backs.

Then there is the question of Clair’s motivation, which is her friendship with Libby. Her dedication and loyalty to Libby are incredible and as much as I love to see friendship between girls taking so much space of this story, the fact remains that Libby is mostly voiceless. She actually completely disappears in the background and, slowly but surely, her personality is presented to be not as good as Clair’s, since she is “obsessed with beauty,” and someone who “can’t handle things.” This serves to somewhat vilify Libby and lift Clair up by contrast, defeating the very focus of the novel.

This rather unfortunate emphasis on their differences impacts negatively an otherwise rather entertaining novel. I do still think there is enough potential here for me to come back for seconds.

In Book Smugglerish, a tentative 6 out of 10.

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can also find them on Twitter.