Book review

Hybrids by David Thorpe (2007)

Do you text a lot on your mobile? Do you sit hunched over your computer keyboard for hours at a time? Yes? Beware then, the Creep. That mobile could become embedded into your hand. It might become a natural extension of yourself. Part skin part plastic. Handy when you want to make a call. But a bit of a nuisance when you want to put it down and use your hand for something else.

Scary? Take a peek at Johnny Online:

I sat next to the bed and handed him the carnations I'd brought. He mumbled some thank-you words; perhaps no one had given him flowers before. As he took them, the sleeve of his hospital gown slipped back to reveal more points where bits of a keyboard seemed to protrude from his lower inside arm. I couldn't help staring - it looked horribly inflamed and bruised and I'd never seen anything like it. The sleeve quickly slipped down again and I looked directly at the small camera embedded in his forehead like a third eye. Beneath it his pixels formed a smiley face. Perhaps that was Johnnny's way of saying thank you for the flowers, but it betrayed nothing of the pain or discomfort I knew he must feel.

The thing is, while you may feel sorry for Johnny, you don't want to catch it from him, do you? As you might expect, there is strict contagion control. Gene Police. Registration. Once you've caught the Creep you have to register, so that the authorities know where you are at all times. Then you're a Blue. If you don't register, and you're out there living rough with the Creep, you're Grey.

Johnny's a Grey. He's been living rough, in squats, for two years now, ever since his parents abandoned him. So he's just what Kestrella needs:

'Could you help find my mother? You're good at hacking and things. Johhnny, I must know if she's alive or not...'

Of course, he may not want to get involved, but he already is. And sooner or later he's going to end up exactly where he doesn't want to be:

I felt sick inside. Oh, how must Johnny be feeling? After two years of successfully evading the Gene Police, he meets me and I lead him straight to them and into the Centre for Genetic Rehabilitation.

Strong stuff this. Some interesting ideas about identity and freedom of the individual but they never get in the way of the story, which is brilliant. I loved it. And I can tell you for sure that you won't guess how this one ends. Highly recommended.

What can I read next?

David Thorpe's futurescape is rather Orwellian. I suspect what goes on inside the Centre for Genetic Rehabilitation isn't much different from inside the Ministry of Love in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

And Johnny Online's Declaration of the Rights of Hybrids recalls Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, in I, Robot.

All very interesting ideas for advanced readers.

If you feel that Johnny Online wasn't too lucky in the draw when parents were being given away you might like to see how Lyra coped with her parents in Philip Pullman's classic trilogy, His Dark Materials

For a great futuristic story about how rotten the real world is, have a look at this one by Oisin McGann. It's about how difficult it is to match up against authority. I loved it:

Or you might enjoy this one by Conor Kostick, set on a distant planet where authority is challenged by achieving supremacy in computer games:

And for a final glimpse into a dystopian future of surveillance cameras, political correctness and the European Superstate, this one by Jan Mark will send shivers down your spine:

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