|The girl in the bubble.|
And Tankborn foregrounds race matters: The futuristic society on the Earth colony planet Loka is as rigidly stratified as colonial India. The heroine, Kayla, and her best friend Mishalla, come from a lower caste called GENs, genetically engineered, literally untouchable slaves. The upper classes puppeteer the GENs as they please, assigning them to jobs, uploading and downloading data into their annexed brains. Upper class Highborns have light brown skin and black hair; the Lowborns and GENs are a rainbow ranging from very dark to red-haired and green eyed, or, in Kayla's case, piebald.
|Sandler: dipping her hoof |
Both heroines get their class-consciousness raised, of course, and so does Kayla's Highborn boyfriend.
The book is a well plotted page-turner, and Sandler builds an alienating, dystopian world (an ex-software engineer, Sandler is a prolific adult author; this is her first Y/A). Tankborn deals with vital societal issues: our definition of "human;" the treatment of non-humans; how status symbols and physiology influence our perceptions of others. It points to the potential pitfalls of technology and genetic engineering. And it asks us to consider, by extension, how socially mobile we Americans and Europeans truly are.
A Language Barrier
All excellent questions for young adults to be pondering. Hence, my admiration. Sadly, though, the heroines left me unmoved. I run across this issue fairly often in sci-fi: characters who don't seem real enough to identify with. In Tankborn the problem stems at least partly from language -- the formal (and foreign) diction and vocabulary of this futuristic world has a distancing effect, and in the end, it created an emotional chasm I couldn't cross. Tankborn has been compared to M.T. Anderson's brilliant Y/A novel Feed,; it addresses similar moral questions. The difference, at least for me? Feed's unforgettable characters and their terrible choices seemed utterly, terrifyingly real.