|A complaint which is often heard about much modern science
fiction is that it is all the same -- far too many SF novels appear almost interchangeable
as the writers mix and remix the same tired old tropes. Where once we had intellectual
stimulation and stylistic innovation, we now have plodding prose with nary a bright
thought to be found.
And so what a pleasure it is to stumble over a writer like Tricia
Sullivan whose new novel Lightborn uses science fiction as it is meant to be
used: to explore the implications of exciting ideas as well as to tell a rattling good
Lightborn technology, or shine as it is popularly known, works at the lowest levels of
the brain and allows people to re-program themselves. It is at one and the same time an
effective education tool and an entertainment medium. Self-improvement that actually works
(as opposed to crappily trendy self-help books that don't work).
But then everything goes horribly wrong in a very Frankensteinian way, as these things
always do. The shiny start going violently mad. The only people not affected by the
madness are either pre-pubertal children who have not yet been exposed to the shine, or
the criminals, psychopaths, sociopaths and others who, for various reasons, have had their
brains modified so as to deny them the benefits of shine..
A remote quarantine area is set up. Surviving in this quarantine are Xavier, a 14
year-old whose puberty has been postponed by taking a drug called kisspeptin, his 'shiny'
mother who is obsessed with knitting, and various other refugees.
The crisis comes when Xavier runs out of the drug that is protecting him from the
shine. He has no choice now -- he has to venture out into the mad world. Here he meets
Roksana who, although she is seventeen, seems to be naturally immune to the effects of the
shine. Together they discover (of course) that all is not what it seems to be...
In many ways this brief outline makes the book sound like every other zombie plague
novel you've ever read (and there are far too many of them out in the world). But that's a
little unfair. Although Tricia Sullivan uses the standard tropes, she isn't limited by
them and what could have been just a rather dull 'struggle for survival in a world gone
mad' story proves to be something much more grandiose and worth while.