In 2001, scientists isolated the gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm. Within five years, it had been spliced into the chromosomes of a rhesus monkey, transported through the cell walls by a retro-virus denuded of its own genetic material.
In an effort to regrow impaired or elderly tissues, it’s only a matter of time before a scientist will one day modify the DNA of human beings by injecting the gene-carrying virus. Before you consent to treatment, however, you may want to ask yourself a question: what if there came a time when you wanted to die, but couldn’t?
Journalist Hendrix Harrison (known to his friends as “Aitch”) links bodies stolen from a renowned forensic-research lab to Mendel Pharmaceuticals, a highly influential drug company. With the help of entomologist Sarah Wallace, he digs deep into a nightmarish world of grisly clinical trials and viral treatment.
And somebody wants him stopped.
The premise behind William Knight’s Generation is fact-based and all too believable, and that’s partly why I enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s a sci-fi medical thriller with roots firmly planted in reality. It’s also billed as something of a horror novel, and depending on your definition of “horror,” that might be correct. There are no boogeymen or haunted houses, but it’s impossible to deny the grim (and often gruesome) nature of the story.
The most unsettling parts of the book are those dealing with the “treatment” victims. These people are essentially trapped in a state of limbo – their bodies are dead and rotting, but their minds are fully active. You might call them zombies, because “living dead” is pretty much what they are. Caught in a seemingly endless cycle of decay and regrowth, they’re unable to live or die in peace. The situation is both disturbing and incredibly sad, and the reader feels both emotions in equal measure.
The quality of Knight’s writing was what surprised me most. To be honest, I don’t know what I expected, but I sure didn’t expect much. Thankfully, Knight rose above and beyond all that, and I found his prose to be tense, articulate, and most enjoyable.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the development of the main characters. Far from being stale and uninteresting, each was well-rounded and written. Harrison, in particular, was a fun character to tag along with, and if he appears again in any of Knight’s future work, I’d be most gratified.
The story offers a bit of food for thought along with the thrills, and I’m always pleased when a book challenges me in that way. How often do we chase “progress” without regard to its ethical implications? What lines will we try to cross to get what we want? What are the consequences of attempting to “play God?”
I do, however, have one major complaint about Generation; and it has to do with the abrupt and completely gratuitous sex scene that appears near the story’s end. What the heck? Is it a decree of modern fiction-writing that the main characters must fall into bed together at some point? It’s as if Knight suddenly decided to try his hand at erotica. And speaking as someone who was actively engaged by the other aspects of the book, that’s just not cool. The scene is awkward and crass, and it sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise excellent story.