Surprisingly, for all my years in sci-fi, I’ve never read Nancy Kress. I think it has often been a subject/person (me) mismatch, so when Tachyon Publications had a review copy up of Sea Change, a novella that focused on current issues in the environment, I jumped at the chance to give her a try. Expecting sci-fi, this has a strong speculative fiction feel looking at genetically modified foods.
The blurb promises “a smart, mesmerizing bio-thriller, with a hard, nuanced look at the perils and promise of technology,” a advertisement it only partially delivers. Lengthy sections of text read like a piece for Sierra Club’s magazine, significantly derailing any tension that the spy pretension develops. I wouldn’t argue with the ‘nuanced,’ description, although I’d say it’s a pretty one-sided presentation of the advantages. If I remember correctly, the GMOs are in reference to plans, for instance, not animals that might escape enclosures and bread with wild populations (salmon are a hot point issue on this). Lacking such finesse, I’m not sure I would call it particularly ‘nuanced,’ as much as a ‘thought-experiment on what happens with a reactive public and equally reactive politicians.’
Regardless, what I hoped to read was a bio-thriller. Did it deliver? Sort of. The main character, Caroline Denton, is a middle-aged divorced woman who has become an operative in the Org. The Org is an underground group researching and applying genetic modifications and operates along the lines of splinter-cells. Caroline has been a life-long activist, but the Org has been her most serious work since a tragedy. The story moves back and forth between Caroline’s earlier life and her current work in the Org as her cell is under attack. I found ignoring most of her internal GMO diatribe kept up the ‘thriller’ pace.
Prose was clean and focused, which I enjoyed. Caroline, also known in the Org as Renata, and her ex-husband definitely achieved the feeling of real, complicated people to me. In fact, at the end, I had to wonder if the true focus was the GMOs, or if it was more of a character study of Caroline.
Oh, and by the way, the moving house makes for a fabulous beginning, but it’s a McGuffin. A taxi would have served just as well.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Tachyon Publications for an advance reader copy. All opinions are, as always, my own, inasmuch as the assorted collection of partially remembered data and experiences processed through organic matter can be.