I’m really delighted to be joining the blog tour today and sharing my review of Off Target by Eve Smith. Published by Orenda Books, it’s now available as an e-book and as an audiobook, with the paperback to follow on 17th February. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to both her and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.
I was going to say that this book is something a little different from my usual reading – but I so enjoyed Eve’s first book for Orenda, The Waiting Rooms (and, if you missed it, it’s just 99p for kindle at the moment), that I just couldn’t wait to try her writing again . I suspect many might have missed my short review of that one, because I rather buried it in a round-up of books I’d listened to. It was an entirely gripping story and superbly told – the antibiotic crisis and its dire consequences for the over-70s in a vividly created near future world, a fascinating African back story, the characters wonderfully drawn, and that central question mark over the relationships between them and the source of the threat from the past. I enjoyed that book so much – and as soon as I heard about this one, I knew I just had to read it…
What if your future was just one modification away?
Critically acclaimed bestseller Eve Smith returns with a terrifying, cautionary glimpse of what the future may hold, with a startlingly thought-provoking blockbuster of a thriller. In an all-too-possible near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure that their babies are perfect – altering genes that may cause illness, and more…
Susan has been trying for a baby for years, and when an impulsive one-night stand makes her dream come true, she’ll do anything to keep her daughter and ensure her husband doesn’t find out … including the unthinkable. She believes her secret is safe. For now.
But as governments embark on a perilous genetic arms race and children around the globe start experiencing a host of distressing symptoms – even taking their own lives – something truly horrendous is unleashed. Because those children have only one thing in common, and people are starting to ask questions… A disturbingly relevant literary thriller with the speculative power of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, and all the tension of a nail-biting medical thriller.
Literary thriller, speculative fiction, medical drama – whatever label you’d like to put on this book (and there are many others you could choose from), I thought it was simply wonderful. On the surface, it might be at a considerable remove from the books I usually choose to read, but at its heart is a moral dilemma of the kind that certainly wouldn’t be out of place in the world of women’s fiction.
Desperate to become a mother, Susan makes a very human mistake – a baby on the way, the result of a one night stand, and should the truth ever emerge it would blow her life apart. Genetic engineering is already possible to eliminate hereditary conditions – suppose it was possible to do more, to put everything right by making the child a genetic match with her husband, and no-one need ever know? And there aren’t likely to be any consequences, are there – she’s not the first to follow this route, and the doctors are reassuring and convincing. But as Susan’s troubled daughter approaches adulthood, things are changing – there’s a worldwide clamour of opposition to the whole idea of designer babies, a tide of anger and violence, coupled with increasing reports of mental illness and suicide among the children who were engineered to be perfect.
Set in the near future – in a world where technology has become more advanced and part of people’s everyday lives – the science is scarily recognisable, much of it already feasible if not necessarily freely available because of the moral and ethical issues involved. It’s what makes this book particularly chilling – the world the author creates is wholly real, the key players rounded individuals with the concerns and emotions you’d expect of them, but presented with choices that constantly make you question what you would do if such options were available. Susan herself is a sympathetic character – in a marriage not without its problems, supported by a friend who is always there for her, finding herself in an impossible situation where the perfect solution is one she only needs to grasp.
The story is told as a before and after. At first, the focus is on Susan’s dilemma and the solution she eventually chooses – and you really can’t help approving of her decision, whatever your reservations and however much you might wrestle with the rights and wrongs. But the second half of the book introduces the perspective of Zurel, her daughter – attempting to come to terms with a situation not of her making, caught up in the mounting anger and confusion of a world that fails to see her as a victim.
While the moral and ethical issues might drive the story and challenge the reader, it’s the human dimension of the story that makes it so exceptionally engaging. The emotional content is exceptionally well handled, with real depth and authenticity – I felt at my core Zurel’s fear and confusion, Susan’s impotence and inability to put things right. The writing is simply superb – despite the growing threat, at times there’s a rather lovely lightness about it, moments of humour, glimpses of normal day-to-day life that lull you into a belief that everything will be sorted out and all will be well. The story is interspersed with worldwide media reports as the opposition and issues escalate – a device that works exceptionally well. And the tension steadily and inexorably escalates – I read this book in a single sitting, breathless in anticipation of the approaching explosion, entirely unable to look away.
This really was an exceptional read – well outside my usual reading comfort zone, but one of the most involving and compelling books I’ve read in a long time. It’s wholly unforgettable, and the moral issues and human consequences will stay with me for some considerable time to come. I really can’t wait to see what Eve Smith does next…
About the author
Eve Smith writes speculative fiction – mainly about the things that scare her – which she attributes to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills. Previously COO of an environmental charity, she has an ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science and far-flung places.