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Sequela Kindle Edition
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|Length: 384 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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The Main Concept:
The story takes place in London during the 2080s and follows the life and career of up-and-coming virologist, Kester Lowe. Kester, from the start, is a hard-working, likeable individual with a well-meaning mother and a close group of friends, who are also his fellow lab workers. Kester's closest friend, Dee, a scientist and a young lady of high morals and standards, is more than a bit dismayed when Kester switches gears and takes a position as a Fashion Virus Designer with a large corporation. After an unintentional betrayal is perpetrated by Kester on Dee, she washes her hands of him completely and they go their separate ways (or so Kester seems to think...hell hath no fury...). Kester doesn't spend much time pining over his former friend - he's whisked off by powerful, sexy Alexis to become her trophy superstar. However, it doesn't take long for Kester to realize there's a price to pay for all his fame and fortune.
Sequela is hugely imaginative, particularly for a first-time novelist. Ms. Smith does a fantastic job of spinning a uniquely creative take on what might be in store for the future. Her ability to inject colorful and descriptive narrative into what could have easily become a novel based solely upon futuristic medical advances and techniques should be enough to keep readers interested. The story is intelligent, thought-provoking and well-written.
Sequela could have used a Watson - someone the writer could have used to explain some of the questions readers might have about the storyline: Why would people want to be deliberately infected with viruses? Why would society become so blatantly oversexed and accept the concept of sexually transmitted disease as a fashion statement? Perhaps a prologue to more or less set the stage. I didn't feel there was enough (or any) background to make readers say, "Ahhh, so this is what led to all of this."
The concept of corporate greed, cut-throat tactics and a general lack of caring about who gets hurt as long as profits are made is the thread that runs through this novel. So is the stance of the Real Church - sinners must repent and turn away from their City ways.
While I understand that this is Science Fiction and exploring societal and moral dilemmas in a futuristic/fantasy manner is the nature of this genre, I was left wanting a certain amount of answers (perhaps material for a prequel?). My wanting to understand the whys, didn't detract from the meat of the book, however. I'd still have to say that if you enjoy fashion with a twist, terrorism and a bit of good vs. evil thrown in, then you'll enjoy Sequela.
Except for Cherry, a young prostitute whose decency shines brightly among the tarnished characters, the characters are beyond redemption, and redemption does not occur. I found this to be the major flaw of the book. Nonetheless, I read it with continued fascination because of the theme.
It may seem unbelievable (and in very poor taste) that people would deliberately cultivate STVs and display their effects, but so was Dean Swift's "Modest Proposal" that Irish babies be raised and eaten to fend off starvation. The author is no Swift (few who attempt satire are), but I felt that the story successfully satirized aspects of modern culture that approach high levels of ludicrousness and often did so with great humor. The book made me think. I am still thinking.
My other objection is to the title. I clicked on the cover only because I wanted to know what Sequela was (or were). A catchier title would draw more readers or at least browsers.
Life has evolved within the urban core of London, protected from the countryside by a wall, into a matter of sexual posturing. The key means of upward mobility is "wearing" the latest and most desirable sexually transmitted disease. Yep. Human engineered viruses with visible side effects. The more visible the side effects the better.
Such a reversal on the common attitude toward viruses has been made possible through a series of scientific discoveries (built in bio-screens, etc.) along with a healthy dose of hedonism and a sturdy superiority complex the people of the city have over those in the country who can't afford the good life. Overall, I found the premise to be quite believable and internally consistent.
This futuristic setting (and the commentary embedded in it) is the genius of Sequela. Every aspect of the debauched society comes across in wonderfully disgusting detail: The Real Church--determined to strong-arm its way back inside the city; The working girl tasked with the extra job of contracting the newest and most desirable diseases in order to boost business for her madam; The marginalized scientific community stewing in their own juices as private industry steals away talent in order to create designer viruses for the sex-crazed.
The society is detailed and vivid. The characters are multi-dimensional, flawed and memorable. These are the things I loved about the book.
My problem with Sequela stems from these same characters. By the end, I simply wanted all of them to lose. Selfish, misdirected, egocentric, self-righteous, vindictive--they are a nasty lot. I actually started enjoying the book much more toward the latter half when everything goes awry. This can be a great accomplishment on the writer's part IF, (and here is the catch) if there is a cost or lesson or moral for all these nasty characters (or if the reader hates them so much the reader can really cheer on their destruction).
But none of that happened for me. Instead I was stuck with mixed emotions. I didn't want the characters to succeed. At the same time, I didn't want their total destruction. I wanted them to learn and change for the better. This gets into choppy waters (my definition of "better" may not be yours).
Let me be clear, this is more of a personal taste issue than one reflecting on Cleland's skills as an novelist. The one thing I felt Cleland failed to do well was establish the motives of the main character, Kester. I never could be sure really why he was doing what he was doing. Often he simply ended up being passively swept along. This certainly contributed to my annoyance with him. Other than that, I simply didn't like the moral conclusion of the story.
And while the ending of Sequela is brilliant in its own nihilistic or cyclical sort of way, it certainly fails to hit the uplifting or redeeming note I had personally hoped for. All said and done, Sequela is written cunningly enough to make the reader care how the story ends. It pokes and prods one throughout. For that, I give Cleland full kudos. Alas, as many of us readers know, it's these cunning books that can be most disappointing when they deviate from our aspirations for them.
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