Review of “The Genome” by Sergei Lukyanenko

GenomeSome of my favourite books are the Night Watch books by Sergei Lukyanenko. While he’s written dozens of books in his native Russian, not many have been translated into English. The Night Watch books were translated due to the movies made of the first two books.

So when Amazon let me know about a new Lukyanenko book, I had to pick it up and check it out. I was interested to see if it was just the Night Watch books that interested me.

One thing I was uncertain of going in was the level of translation. Obviously, when a book is in a language other than English, the translator is essentially rewriting the book. Which means while the plot and characters are preserved, the sentence flow and prose can be mangled. Or in this case, they can flow easily and well. I wish I could credit the translator, but their name isn’t anywhere on the copyright page. Perhaps Lukyanenko did it himself, in which case it would be doubly impressive.

So to the meat of the story. The Genome is about a spaceship pilot called Alex in the far future. He’s been genetically altered to fall in love with spaceships instead of women, so as to make him a better pilot. This, along with other genetic alterations, makes him a Special or ‘spesh’. He runs across a fourteen year old girl who’s about to go through her own metamorphosis into a spesh, but she has no money and neither does he. So he takes a suspicious job as a spaceship captain in order to raise funds to buy medical supplies for her.

From there. Alex hires a crew and goes on board the spaceship. The characters are all well developed and unique. With the fourteen year old girl joining the crew as the security officer, they set out. I won’t give much more away, since the mystery is kind of the point in this book.

The Genome is a slow build. At just under 500 pages long, it’s not really about one story, but more an exploration of the universe Alex lives in. There is a nominal plot, but it’s only touched on occasionally. Most of the time, Alex is experiencing and thinking about the worlds they visit.

There are elements that will trouble some readers. While it’s a minor spoiler, I feel obliged to point out that Alex (who is an adult) has an affair with the fourteen year old mentioned earlier. He also has an affair with another officer and both women just “understand” that it’s okay for him to have multiple partners. He doesn’t even stop at two, then flirting with a third woman to try to seduce her.

However, I have difficulty criticising any of this, since they’re through the eyes of the characters themselves. Alex and the other speshs don’t experience love in the same way. They also live in a society where children are encouraged to be sexually active as soon as they hit puberty. While it’s creepy from a current, Western standpoint, different societies react to sex differently.

There’s also an element of misogyny. For example, the female officer makes the food and drinks because she isn’t a “feminist”. Which made me arch an eyebrow, but didn’t stop me reading.

The universe Alex and the others fly through is vivid and well realised. There’s no lack of imagination in the incredible worlds they visit. The mysteries in the book held my interest the entire way through. While it’s not a straight-forward story like the Night Watch books are, as an exploration of a possible future it was fascinating.

Overall, I’d recommend picking up a copy of The Genome. It was an unusual and unique read that had a very real universe to explore. I hope more of Lukyanenko’s books are translated, if this is the quality of the result. I give The Genome 4/5 stars (5/5 on Amazon), meaning that I really liked it.

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