Reviews > Published on December 3rd, 2014

Bookshots: 'The Genome' by Sergei Lukyanenko

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review


The Genome

Who wrote it?

Sergei Lukyanenko, czar of Russian science fiction, builder of fantastic alternate worlds, scribe of the "World of Watches" pentalogy, and the East's answer to Heinlein and Gibson.

If you've never read Lukyanenko, you'll be impressed by the sheer inventiveness of the world he's constructed in 'The Genome'.

Plot in a box:

A genetically modified master-pilot must captain a ship and its crew on a dangerous and mysterious mission.

Invent a new title for this book:

The Adventures of Human Genetic Engineering

Read this if you like:

The aforementioned Heinlein and Gibson, world-building, the human race, genetically modified organisms, Sherlock Holmes, that recent space movie with that alright, alright, alright guy.

Meet the book's lead:

Alex Romanov, an Earth-born human that's been genetically modified to fill a specific societal role and perform specific tasks (Lukyanenko refers to a genetically modified person such as this as a spesh; regular humans are naturals). In Romanov's case, he's been modified to be a master-pilot, which means he has all the traits you'd want in a captain of your interstellar spacecraft, for better and worse.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:

I'd dig Jason Momoa here. I think his roles in Stargate Atlantis and Game of Thrones show he's got some emotional range in addition to being a physically terrifying individual.

Setting: Would you want to live there?

The Genome takes place smack-dab in the middle of an interstellar empire in the distant future where humans have been genetically modified to fulfill certain roles and duties. I don't think that's my bag, man.

What was your favorite sentence?

His legs were slightly shaky. Alex got up from the captain's chair as it softly pushed him up, just the way he liked it to. Everything had changed. The world had acquired meaning. A unique and all-important meaning. He wondered if those who could love other humans ever felt this way. He doubted it.

The Verdict:

A space opera with three disparate acts, The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko is one of the most impressive exercises in world-building that I've had the pleasure of reading.

Set at some point late in the 22nd century, we pick up protagonist Alex Romanov, a pilot-spesh, shortly after he's released from a hospital on the planet Quicksilver Pit. He was in a nasty space accident of some sort, and he's on the hunt for a job to get himself back on his feet. Of course, even in the late 22nd century finding a job is hard work, so in the meantime he's decided to entertain himself with the plight of a 14-year-old fighter-spesh named Kim, who's going through this world's equivalent of a pubescent transformation (referred to in the book as a metamorphosis). Alex feels obligated to help Kim through this tough time; after all, she really is in a bad way, having just escaped her home planet Eden (which is a bazillion light years or so away), and part of being a pilot-spesh means it's in your programmed nature to sympathize with others and aid them, despite the fact that you can't feel love of any sort. Kim has some shit going on with her too, like most teenagers going through puberty. Namely, she's got a pretty juicy secret inside of her. No, this isn't some Teen Mom bullshit; this isn't that kind of story, thank goodness. But it's worth noting here because it affects shit, you know? 

That's the first act in a nutshell. It's a fantastic character study, and Lukyanenko really does a great job building Romanov as a cool, sort-of badass hero type. The second act starts when Romanov finds that job he's been looking for; it seems like one of those too-good-to-be-true deals — he signs on to captain his own ship, the Mirror, for two years and he gets to pick his own crew, a rarity in this world it seems. What's more, he gets a signing bonus up front and it's more than enough to help care for Kim as she struggles through her metamorphosis. Romanov picking his crew, which eventually includes Kim and few others with their unique focus areas and specializations, and their mission on board the Mirror is a rather weak middle act, if only because Lukyanenko uses it solely as a bridge to get to the final act.

That's where things pick up again, and we're suddenly in the middle of a full-blown murder mystery, complete with a detective and his sidekick coming on board the Mirror to investigate. It's the classic Sherlock Holmes set-up, with a dash of Hercule Poirot and a heaping spoonful of Lukyanenko's philosophical commentary on the future of humanity and some other such nonsense. The latter detracts you from the former, which would have been so much more enjoyable had it not have been bogged down by the latter. Make sense? You dig?

Bottom line here, folks, is that if you've never read Lukyanenko, you'll be impressed by the sheer inventiveness of the world he's constructed in The Genome. I hadn't read Lukyanenko before I started swiping through this on the ol' Kindle. I didn't necessarily know what to expect, although I did see Timur Bekmambetov's adaptations of Night Watch and Day Watch and enjoyed the world that was built in those films. Clearly there were plot differences from the novels (or so I've heard), so perhaps that wasn't a great introduction to Lukyanenko's written universe. For those of you in the same boat as I was, The Genome is such an introduction, even if the philosophy slightly hinders the plot.

About the author

Ryan is currently at work on his first novel while also prepping the launch of a podcast called "the 45 minute radio hour."

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