Welcome to Recommended Reads! In this new monthly slot, I'm going to be recommending a book or books I've read recently. There are so many good books out there, and sometimes I want to do more than just fire off a tweet about them – so hopefully this will help me spread the word about the ones I've enjoyed the most.
The future's not so bright
I seem to have read several books lately in which unscrupulous governments are willing to sacrifice a minority for the benefit of the majority. My favourite of these were Jonathan Trigell's Genus and Simon Lelic's The Facility, both of which are set in not-so-distant future versions of the UK. Though the two books present very different visions, they both make a pretty solid case against 'the greatest good for the greatest number' – and they're both damn good reads.
Genus is the more speculative of the two, so if you're after an interesting piece of science fiction then you should give it a try. The premise of the book is that gene technology has become sufficiently advanced to allow parents to select preferred characteristics and immunity to disease for their unborn children. As a result, those without any 'improvements' at all (whether through poverty, accident or ethical choice) are becoming increasingly few – and increasingly marginalised. Then, in one particular ghetto for the Unimproved, a murderer begins to strike …
Trigell's language is flamboyant and inventive, and he excels at capturing the different personalities of his quirky characters through his choice of words and writing style. Though it took me a while to get into Genus, after a few chapters I was hooked. The twists and turns keep you guessing, and the parallels with current society – rioting, terrorism and the division between rich and poor – are cleverly drawn. Full of timely and often disturbing ethical questions, Genus is a challenging but always fascinating look at the possibilities of genetic engineering.
The Facility, on the other hand, is set in a future so close to the present that it could almost be happening now. New anti-terrorism laws mean that anyone can be seized and imprisoned without recourse to a lawyer or any obligation on the government's part to answer the public's questions. When Arthur Priestley finds himself hauled off to one such secret prison facility, he is plunged into a nightmare in which the reason for his imprisonment is only gradually revealed. Meanwhile, his ex-wife Julia and a political journalist, Tom, embark on a race against time to find out the truth behind his disappearance.
As shown by his previous novel, Rupture, Lelic has a real gift for capturing the voices of 'ordinary' people. His prose is simpler and smoother than Trigell's, but convincing in its evocation of the everyday (as opposed to the more colourful and outlandish characters and settings of Genus). The Facility maintains its sense of menace throughout, picking up momentum until it's almost impossible to stop reading. There is a horrible inevitability about the ending – an ending that I hoped would be averted, right up until the last painful moment. The Facility is a convincing and unsettling picture of a society that could quite easily be with us before too long.
… and now for something completely different
If you're after something more upbeat then you can't go wrong with Edie Claire's Wraith. I picked this up as a free Kindle download, and I'm certainly glad I did. It's a well-written young adult fantasy romance, and although I saw the twist coming a mile off, that didn't detract at all from my enjoyment of the book.
Kali sees dead people, but that isn't by any means the Sixth Sense rip-off it sounds like. The 'shadows' are emotional snapshots of the past: ghosts of dead people tied to a particular place, repeating the same significant event in their lives over and over again. Kali has learned to ignore these shadows and to hide her ability from everyone else. But then she meets Zane. Not only is he the most solid shadow she's ever seen, he can see and talk to her. Now Kali has to help him remember how he died so that he can find peace …
Wraith is a very readable and fast-paced novel that should appeal to all readers of YA supernatural romance. Personally I enjoyed it far more than Twilight, and I'm looking forward to the proposed sequel next year.