Sunday, 7 July 2013

Xenofreak Nation by Melissa Conway

Review by Bill Kirton

This is one of those books that’s both a page-turning read and an intelligent depiction of serious subjects and issues of real importance which keep us thinking long after we’ve closed it. It’s set in the relatively near future, with new subcultures and ethical factions creatively imagined and realised and yet reflecting contemporary preoccupations with the medical ethics of practices such as cloning, tissue cultures and harvesting organs for transplants. As one of its characters says ‘We’re in an era capable of great medical advances but crippled by ethical debate’.

It’s true that these are the book’s concerns and yet the elements of its narrative –  action, psychology, politics, investigations, medical research, conflict between warring factions – are so skilfully unified by the writer that, even as we’re made to confront the ethical issues and question where our own sympathies lie, we’re driven on by a plot whose tension never slackens. I’m making it sound as if it’s dealing in abstractions – it isn’t. It’s the characters who drive it. They’re powerfully realised and we care what happens to them, we’re fascinated by the animal grafts some of them sport and the positions they occupy in this brave new world, and we’re dragged along by the conflicts and resolutions, the shifting allegiances and, yes, even the love story that manages to emerge despite the excesses to which the central couple are subjected. The narrative threads are woven skilfully together at a pace which never lets up. It delivers a gripping story with a brilliantly sustained climax.