How far will we go to create a better type of humanity? I'm not referring to that the way a liberal would because I'm not defining "better" as more compassionate and easily herded. I'm defining "better" here as being stronger or at least less weak. Is it possible that we could one day be willing to alter our very DNA to do it? What would the reaction to such a thing be? Would "normal" (IE unaltered persons) be comfortable around those who had been altered? Would they want them around? I'm not sure what my answer would be to any of those questions, but Pam Uphoff lets us all know where she stands in her book Outcasts and Gods and she doesn't seem to be all that optimistic.
This book cooks from beginning to end. The pace is relentless. It starts out with genetically improved children being seized from their parents and moves through training, subterfuge and ultimately exploration. There is always more going on than there seems to be. The main character, a young man named Wolfgang, is perpetually three to four steps ahead of everyone and he needs to be. The one time he goofs it costs him his freedom.
OAG's heroes are a group of genetically engineered teens and young adults (up to, I think, age twenty-four) who have been taken from their families or raised in captivity under the guidance of a company. The government has decided that since they have been genetically altered they are not human and can be treated as property. Basically, they're treated as slaves and they're not happy about it but here's the kicker: These are kids who have been given powers the rest of humanity never had. They can throw fireballs, open and closes locks using telekinesis and do all sorts of other interesting things. I don't want to spoil too much but let's just say that messing with a telekinetic person is not a good plan. The fun really starts when they figure out how to open gates to other dimensions with alternate Earths.
The genetically engineered "gods" (as they are derisively referred to) are not at all passive participants. They work throughout the tale to improve their living situation and/or escape. The guards are afraid of them. They do whatever they can for themselves and hide things from their captors for as long as they can in an effort to give themselves an advantage. They're hardcore people stuck in a jacked up environment. It's not hard to make a comparison between Uphoff's "gods" and Jews in a Nazi concentration camp as long as it's not taken too far. The gods are enslaved and dehumanized but they do at least receive decent food and clothing. It's not a one to one match but for government work, it's a reasonable approximation.
Speaking of government, Uphoff's opinion toward government and mine appear to be not far off from each other. The US government in OAG is a greedy, control-hungry structure that takes over later than it could have simply because it can't get its act together to pass the necessary legislation. In short, Uphoff's government is bumbling, incompetent and power-hungry. I calls 'em as I sees 'em and I think she's got it right. The kids are left in bondage not for any real biological reason, they're as human as you or I, but because it's more convenient that way. There would be nothing stopping the company from hiring these people and paying them. They just don't want to and they're aided and abetted by a government that sees things as more convenient that way.
The thing that I really like about this book is that it was written first in a series and it NEEDS to be that first book. When I read the Dragonriders of Pern series at first I had no clue that it had ever had a basis in science fiction. I assumed that it was a purely fantasy story. It wasn't until I read The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall that I had any clue about the true origins of the series. Uphill has done an excellent job in putting the first story first and cluing her readers in on how things started and why they happen the way they do. Kudos to her.
If there is anything that bothers me about the book it's that Wolfgang seems to be just a bit too slick and to have knowledge that he really should not. At one point he uses medical knowledge that he had no way to obtain to create a solution to a problem and not get caught. It didn't quite work for me. Also, some of the (admittedly lesser used) powers of the gods seem just a bit too convenient. Then again, I grew up watching Transformers and the same type of thing happened there all the time. All in all though the book was a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to reading all of the sequels. I think. There seemed to be two missing from the list on Amazon or maybe I just missed them. But, if I can find them, I intend to buy them. If I can't, well.... Let's just say I hope I can. Oh, and it looks like Outcasts and Gods is available for ninety-nine cents on Amazon as of the date I posted this. I'm not sure how long that'll last.
Bottom Line: 4.75 out of 5 Altered Genes
Outcasts and Gods
Self Published, 2011
Outcasts and Gods is available for purchase here: