REVIEW SUMMARY: The second book in Stephanie Saulter’s ®evolution series answers many (but not all) of the questions readers were left with at the end of the first book, Gemsigns, gives us a lot of background information Aryel and Zavcka, and opens a new plotline that will get readers excited for the next book in the series.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Gems are now legally equal to the norms, but society has a long way to go. Aryel’s foster family visits the city for medical advice for her brother’s crippling disease, and Sharon Varsi is investigating a strange theft involving out of date genestock. Meanwhile, Zavcka Klist is rebranding her company in an attempt to start a partnership with the Gems she is responsible for creating and then nearly destroying.
PROS: Touches on important political issues; a great balance between good pacing and a well-developed ensemble cast; plot is emotionally gripping.
CONS: Handling of one of character’s special ability is heavy-handed; sometimes it’s hard to tell who the characters in the flashbacks are.
BOTTOM LINE: Some books are good, some books are even great. This one is important.
In a recent guest post here at SF Signal entitled We Need Fiction to Tell The Truth, author Stephanie Saulter more so uses the column to talk about how too many people allow their discomfort, fear, or ignorance to color their interactions with others who have physical, mental, or cognitive disabilities, but the column’s title itself is a perfect summary of so much of what she touched on in Gemsigns, and now in Binary. Gems (genetically modified people) may not look like us, but they are just like us. Does this sound familiar? This is the same line we raise (or should be raising) our children with: that person may not look like you (different skin color, or different culture, or is in a wheelchair, or is deaf, etc.), but they are just like you. Needing fiction to tell the truth, indeed. Before you start worrying about a “message” novel, Saulter isn’t trying to make readers feel guilty or feel bad. She’s showing us what can happen when we do finally remember that we are all in this together, that it’s not “us vs them”, because we are all “us”.
As intriguing as this may already sound, Binary is a direct sequel to Gemsigns, and the events and situations is Gemsigns are expanded and extrapolated in Binary, so you should really read them in order.
The first book, Gemsigns, took place during an international conference that would determine what rights the genetically modified humans had, and Binary takes place during an international “Festival of the Future”, a world’s fair, of sorts. Revolution and paradigm shifts in cultural attitudes are never clean or safe things, so many are nervous about how the Gem technology featured at the Festival will be received. Zavcka Klist is also back, this time making pronouncements about how her gemtech company has reformed itself, and that they will be moving in new directions – away from genetic research, and towards developing human/computer interfaces, something that could benefit all the peoples of the Earth.
Everyone is visiting for the Festival of the Future, including Aryel’s foster family. We meet the man who raised her, and her foster brother and sister, Rhys and Gwen. If Gemsigns had you itching to learn more about Aryel, Binary answers most of those questions. Rhys and Gwen have some amazing abilities as well, and their visit for the Festival is a good excuse for Rhys to become a bit of a lab rat. Being in the city, around so many research facilities, maybe he can finally understand his genome so a cure can be found for the illness that’s slowly killing him. His own research and the tests in the hospital will only bring him so far. His illness affects every aspect of his life, and I appreciated how much detail Saulter went into about this. Rhys meets someone, and it’s love at first sight. Shouldn’t their happiness be celebrated? But what’s there to celebrate when your impending illness will just destroy your relationship anyway? If you are living with cancer or AIDS, or so many other diseases, this is a question that plagues you ever day, a question that’s too easy for the rest of us to forget about.
And then there is Aryel. Because of how so many norms view her, she is desperate to stay on the side lines. It’s funny, you can almost see Aryel running from the spotlight, pushing attention on other characters, not wanting any of this to be focused on her, but still, she can’t avoid being a central part of the bombshells dropped at the end of the novel. And it’s a delicate thing with her: she puts herself out there like she’s a messiah. She’ll never admit it, but she takes complete advantage of her ability to get people to follow her, and some of these interactions, especially between her and Eli get very heavy-handed. But if you were in her position, wouldn’t you do the same thing? Besides, she needs people to see her as just a little angelic. That reputation may be the only thing that saves her when the rest of her secrets ever come to light.
Many sections of the book start with a flashback, most of which are told from a child or young teen’s point of view. An issue for me was that so very few of the flashbacks specify who the flashback is from, and on more than a few occasions I had to reread them out of confusion of whose story was being told. I wish there had been more context in some of these passages.
The novel closes with a collection of big reveals, none of which I will tell you about in detail. Although they are jaw-dropping in how they could affect the rest of this series, I didn’t feel these reveals were as Earth shattering as the climactic scenes in Gemsigns. Saulter successfully balances multiple plot lines without the story feel rushed, and builds an ensemble cast where each character is fully fleshed out. Once the plot gets going, it builds intensely, offering hints here and there, but keeping the reader guessing about who is involved in what, and how. There’s a populace still struggling with integration, Sharon Varsi’s investigation of the missing genestock, Rhys’s illness and how it affects the burgeoning (and quite adorable) relationship between him and Callan, Eli and Aryel’s nervousness about having Herran assist with Zavkca’s cranial interface project, Gwen’s rise to stardom, and a handful of other minor plots, not to mention some carefully and purposely placed loaded guns on tables. It goes without saying that is not an easy balancing act to pull off, and that Saulter has successfully pulled it off. I can’t wait to see what she brings to the table in the next book in this series.