Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Only Ones (2015)

I thought this science fiction novel by Carola Dibbell was pretty good. It harks to the cyberpunk mold in many ways—there's a lot of concept to figure out as we are plunged in media res into the bewildering action. In this case, set 50 years in the future, it's a world dominated by biology. A series of cascading pandemics has ripped away worldwide social bonds. For various reasons, only some of them clear, there aren't many babies. There's a crisis of fertility going on, perhaps as byproduct of the die-off or perhaps because of the contagious diseases that are wiping out people in large numbers. Computers and digital communication are woven into daily routines more deeply, but feel even more fragile than they do now. Into this dystopic nightmare comes our hero and narrator: born Inez Fardo, known as "I." She is a "Sylvain hardy," which means she is almost perfectly resistant to the diseases ravaging the planet. In fact, her body system is a danger to the viruses. So the question arises: is her condition genetic? Can it be passed on to an heir? There is much black market activity around fertility in this world, and there are also many fundamentalist vigilantes attempting to stop it with violence. The Only Ones is the story of Inez and Ani, I's spawn of herself—"clone" is a term of insult in this world, not to mention dangerous because of the fundamentalists—and the life they share in the burnt-out wreck of Queens, New York, while Ani grows up. Ani is everything I lives for. It becomes a thrilling action adventure story of motherhood, from conception and birth to letting her go into the world, a natural arc in a very unnatural setting. I think my favorite part is the voice of I, a clipped wounded repressed thing, but fully expressive when you learn her ways. Somebody compared it with Huckleberry Finn, and it's maybe not such a stretch. You learn the ways she expresses love and what love means to her in the sense of some of her recurrent phrases. "Still alive," she says all through. Ani's life growing up is an echo of her early days and weeks and months, when her viability itself was uncertain. "Still alive," I reports back to the group responsible for getting Ani into the world. Or I's use of the word "cute," always in reference to Ani. Until the first time she uses it, Inez is manifestly not the kind of person who would, you'd think. When she applies it to Ani, it's a pure expression of love, glowing almost, as you come to understand. The Only Ones starts slow, but it's worth sticking with.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. You know I'm impatient w/ writerly tricks but what she does w/ the voice of the narrator, the semi-literate language, and the way she makes that stunted bluntness build to the emotional intensities of maternal love and torment I found moving. The corresponding dystopian despondency of the setting works for me too but it's sketchy on the details at best.