Gemsigns – (R)evolution #1 – Stephanie Saulter
Humanity stands on the brink. Again.
Surviving the Syndrome meant genetically modifying almost every person on the planet. But norms and gems are different. Gems may have the superpowers that once made them valuable commodities, but they also have more than their share of the disabled, the violent and the psychotic.
After a century of servitude, freedom has come at last for the gems, and not everyone’s happy about it. The gemtechs want to turn them back into property. The godgangs want them dead. The norm majority is scared and suspicious, and doesn’t know what it wants.
Eli Walker is the scientist charged with deciding whether gems are truly human, and as extremists on both sides raise the stakes, the conflict descends into violence. He’s running out of time, and with advanced prototypes on the loose, not everyone is who or what they seem. Torn between the intrigues of ruthless executive Zavcka Klist and brilliant, badly deformed gem leader Aryel Morningstar, Eli finds himself searching for a truth that might stop a war.
I absolutely loved this book. Let’s start with that. I think it’s the most intelligent, realistic science-fiction book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a pleasure to read and feels like a real window into the future, though as a scientist I’m not so sure we’re anywhere near the knowledge that’s displayed here. But still, it could happen and at the same time it also has so many aspects that are already present in our society that it all seems eerily familiar somehow.
This book deals with the same problems as X-men for example, where mutants are shunned and feared. This time however the mutations are manmade instead of evolutionary. At some point humanity faced The Syndrome, a disease that could only be cured by genetically mutating humans so they would be resistant to this disease. But with such successes in genetic engineering, why stop with disease resistance? Soon enough, Gems were made not only for making healthy babies but also genetically modified to serve a certain economical purpose. If you put it bluntly, it’s a breeding program to make the lives of humans easier. Gems are mostly recognizable by their hair, which is brightly coloured, even phosphorescent.
The story starts sometime after the Declaration. This is a set of laws passed to give Gems more freedom, because they were always living under the authority of the Gemtech’s before that. It is however not entirely sure the Gems can just live alongside the other humans, the Gemtech companies for example would rather have some control left over them. And then there’s the ethical side of things, will the people allow it? Because this is a whole new race of humans, modified and engineered. Are they for example a danger to society? Maybe a gene got modified that shouldn’t have been, and that only shows effects on the long run?
To debate and make a final decision about the Gem’s freedom, a conference is being held with all the significant people involved in the whole thing. One of them is Eli Walker, a scientist who has been assigned the task of investigating and learn more about the Gems and write an objective report about his findings. The Gemtech companies try their best to manipulate him into their point of view, but when Eli meets with some of the Gems and slowly integrates in their society he (and we) see that they are not all that different from us. We follow his story in the few days before the Conference and during the Conference itself.
Not everyone welcomes the Gems with open arms. A group of religious extremists plan on eradicating the Gem society one by one. They start of by attacking them, but it soon turns into something much worse. Reading these passages were horrifying, but also eye opening. Things like that are happening now, today and you don’t always think about that and about the injustice of it. Maybe when it’s a headline on the news we feel anger and pity, but after that it slips our minds again. This book really gave me that ‘jolt’ I needed to focus more on problems like this and recognizing how cruel and unfair it is and how prominent it is in our society. No one has the right to harm others because they’re different or they don’t have the same opinions or religion as they do. The interesting thing here is that one of the POV’s is the ‘leader’ of this religious sect, the Godgangs, and I think the author really nailed how people like him think and how they justify their actions.
One of the other characters that is more on the ‘evil’ side of the scale is Zavcka Klist, who has a prominent position in Bel’Natur, one of the major Gemtech companies. She’s manipulative, slick and would kill for the goal she has set for herself and the company. She wants control and she’d do anything to get it. She really has an interesting part in this whole story.
Aryel Morningstar is the non-official leader of the Gem society and also a bit of a mystery. She wears a huge cloak that’s hiding something that’s on her back. The only thing people have ever seen is the lump it makes under her cloak, but no one knows what it really is, though there has been speculation about some sort of weapon. She also has a vague history, no one knows where she came from or who/which company made her. She is the centre point of this story in my opinion. She’s so charismatic and clever her character practically leaps off the pages. I loved reading about her and Saulter really kept me guessing about her GemSign ’till the very end.
The end will leave you holding your breath, waiting for what’s to come. This was one of those endings that plays in my head like a movie scene with epic music in the background. It’s also a well-rounded ending, it leaves space for more, but it doesn’t leave you behind with an enormous cliff-hanger and that frustrating feeling that always comes with that. Highly recommended, a very intelligent, realistic and entertaining science fiction book well worth a read.