1) The power of genetic engineering to radically change our species and invert the traditional hierarchy of relationships. Genetically altered embryos yield a cohort of gifted children who are, for the most part, slow to discover and use their gifts. Even when they’ve figured out that they are somehow different, they’re hesitant to put their powers to use. It’s clear they’re uneasy about violating the normal order of things.
2) The fragility of our planet and species when a chance discovery at an archeological dig releases infectious agents that kill billions. And,
3) The awkward maturation process of pre-teen boys who are coping with the normal range of challenges common to that age: interpersonal relationships, bullying, budding (and humorously confused) sexual interest, etc.
It’s the last theme that, for me, grounds the book in a consistent reality that can be identified with. There are no Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon’s that undermine the credibility of many scifi books. There are just little boys whose primary concerns are those normal to their age, and the cataclysmic events around them rarely take center stage; these are still- often painfully – just kids being kids. This focus is faithfully maintained until the wrap up when the children have aged to young adulthood, and the focus shifts to the very different issues of reconstructing society from the ashes. Tellingly, at this point the protagonists became less interesting as characters; they serve mainly to move the plot forward. I note this, because I missed the humanness of the children.
The book is narrated largely from the first person point of view of one of the gifted boys. The author switches occasionally to an omniscient third-person POV, and gets away with it. The plot makes this switching back and forth necessary and the introduction of this changing POV is handled early on.
The blurb promises a departure from the usual dystopian/utopian visions of the future and the promise is fulfilled. Meggs’ future is both bleak and rosy. Part of this dual vision arises from the lens through which the narrators, the children, see it: There are touching passages describing personal loss and there are almost cavalier reports of the deaths of huge populations. This inability to comprehend the scope of the horror beyond the horizon seems completely appropriate for the narrators; they are devastated by the loss of a pet or family member, but unmoved by news that billions are dying.
This book is not for everyone – a safe statement since no book is – but it should appeal to readers who enjoy a coming of age novel or a novel that describes a unique future. The pacing is good, because Meggs knows when to spend a few pages exploring a relationship and when to step on the gas. And the dialogue among the children rings true. – Michael Bernhart