on 5 January 2015
When I received a review copy for Binary I was super stoked as its predecessor Gemsigns topped my 2013 favourite debuts list, by a mile I may add. And then I was hit by a gigantic case of book fear--the fear you get after being swept away by an author's book that their next book couldn't possibly live up to your expectations. And thus Binary languished on my to-read-pile, until last Christmas, when I kicked myself in the behind and told myself to get it in gear and pick up this book I'd wanted to read so badly before it was out. Thank you past-me, because I have to admit that Binary was fantastic and every bit as good as I could have wished for.
Binary is set several years after Gemsigns and features a mix of old and new characters. Of course, Aryel Morningstar and Dr Eli Walker return, as does Gemsigns' antagonist Zavcka Klist. We get added viewpoints from Rhys and Sharon, who are great new voices. Sharon Varsi is a norm DI, who married Mikal, who is the manager of the Squats, the gem community in London. Her viewpoint has a sort of police procedural flavour to it as she investigate the alleged theft of genestock from the European Gene Archive. I loved her character, she has a certain unflappableness that I enjoyed. Rhys, the other new main viewpoint character, is Aryel's younger foster brother and a tech wizard. He also needs to discover how to cure the attacks he's been suffering from that leave him weakened and sore. In addition, he has a wonderful and lovely romance. At first I was a bit taken aback by the pace of the relationship, but then I realised that they'd been communicating online for ages, so it wasn't a case of insta-love trope.
There are several great secondary characters, but my absolute favourite was Herran. His genes have been manipulated in such a way that he's brilliant with anything digital, yet he suffers from severe communication difficulties and exhibits behaviours that in this day and age would usually be associated with severe autism. Saulter develops his character beautifully. In her piece on the exploration of disability in Guardians of the Galaxy focussing on Groot and Drax, Sarah of Bookworm Blues talks about how Groot is limited by his vocabulary, but can communicate broadly via body language and verbal cues. Once one learns to understand these, he can be quite expressive. Herran's development feels quite similar. In fact, Rhys even notes on meeting him in meatspace that Herran is far more fluent in a digital format. But throughout the narrative he becomes more and more eloquent as more point of view characters learn to understand his language, while Herran also expands his arsenal of non-verbal cues. I just really loved Herran; he's a gentle, loyal soul and one that is far more devious and nimble than many around him expect.
With the Declaration and the delivery of Dr Walker's report in Gemsigns, societal changes were set in motion that were analogous to Abolition and the end of segregation rolled into one. Almost five years on things are changing but not as fully or as fast as desired. Mixed couples are becoming more common, but they are nowhere near accepted yet, something illustrated in how Sharon is given the cold shoulder by many of her colleagues for marrying Mikal. The latter is sworn in as the first gem city councillor at the start of the novel, but even during his inauguration doubts are voiced by the civil servant swearing him in, albeit not aloud. Yet at the same time there is also a growing sense of glamour attached to gems, such as Lyrriam and Gwen who are hounded by the paparazzi - who sadly aren't a phenomenon humanity has gotten rid off even over a century in the future - not to mention Aryel who is still held in atavistic awe by many.
The gillungs, water-adapted gems, have taken their settlement money and created their own underwater habitat tech, which is very successful and becoming quite profitable, something that's an interesting development as it seems that this is tech that isn't human gemtech-based and as such is a new area of research. I also liked that something I had noted in my review for Gemsigns - that all information technology was basically almost the same as in our day, because all R&D had gone into gemtech - was actually a plot element in Binary, when this research is rebooted. The outlawing of human gemtech - as opposed to agricultural gemtech - has created a vacuum for the gemtech companies who need to scramble to find new products to develop so they can be competitive again. Saulter really took this economic side-effect of the Declaration into account, which I enjoyed.
If Gemsigns asked what makes us human, the big question central to Binary is where do we draw the line? A question most clearly expressed in the quandary Sharon and Mikal find themselves in when it comes to having children. The fertility issues they run into, cause them to ask themselves if they are modifying the embryo's anyway, which is actually gem tech, where do you stop? Do you limit to enabling pregnancy with a viable embryo? Do you tweak out the markers for genetic diseases? Do you perhaps go as far taking out some of the more outré physical manifestations of gem parents? And if you do, what message does this send to your child? It's a fascinating dilemma and one which isn't as far removed from our own society as one might think, given even modern day worries about designer babies.
In Binary Saulter reveals some really big truths about both Aryel's and Zavcka's pasts, ones which were very surprising, especially the truths about Zavcka. These truths will also have far-reaching consequences for the future and I can't wait to discover what they will be in the final book in this series, Regeneration. Binary has confirmed Saulter is one of the most interesting new voices in SF and a must-read author. If you haven't discovered this series yet, I highly recommend you check it out, because it's one of the most thought-provoking series currently being published.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.
on 12 September 2015
It's no secret to anyone who knows me that I loved 'Gemsigns', the first novel in this series (to the point where if any of my friends ask for a recommendation, Stephanie Saulter's name is one of those I always mention) but to be perfectly honest, I think 'Binary' is even better. Set a little while after the events of the previous book, 'Binary' is about how relationships between the genetically-modified and the norms are shaking out, with a strong sub-plot about the use and storage of now-illegal genetic material. Old characters are re-introduced to us as new characters and their relationships are added, all acting like real human beings in a world that seems very familiar despite the things that have clearly changed, not always for the better. I also enjoyed the final book, 'Regeneration', even though I was sad to see this fantastic trilogy come to an end. Highly recommended!
on 12 April 2014
Binary is what’s commonly known as “That difficult second novel”, the eagerly awaited follow-up to Gemsigns, which was released to much excitement in Spring 2013. This accomplished, information-heavy debut, set in a near-future world where genetic modification has become common, documented the struggle for genetically modified humans (Gems) to obtain basic human rights. Binary tells us what happens next, after freedom, after the dust has settled and humans and Gems are living uneasily side-by-side as supposed equals.
Equality has not solved all the Gems problems, and particularly pressing are the problems that may arise with future children, and children that Gems may have with so-called “norms”. The threat from religious fundamentalists may have eased somewhat, but the biotech companies who were so invested in Gem creation and manipulation are still a looming danger, especially Bel’Natur and its calculating, manipulative chief executive, Zavcka Klist. She is interested in prolonging Gem technology for her own deeply personal reasons, and she will stop and nothing, not even murder, to make sure she gets her way.
The book unfolds, in flashback, the fascinating parallels and the complicated, unexpected connections, between Klist and the unelected Gem leader and advocate, the unique figure of Aryel Morningstar, and their conjoined story is set against a fast-moving fight to safe the life of damaged Gem Rhys by finding his genetic prototype deep in the computer vaults of the Gemtech companies. Rhys, his twin sister Gwen, his lover Callan and almost autistic computer genius and hacker Herran unravel a plot involving theft, industrial espionage and murder that goes right to the dark heat of Bel’Natur, and that reveals secrets about the Gems own inception and purpose which, if brought to light, could have dangerous consequences for Gemkind.
Binary is fast, witty, technically adept, with a warm heart beating through it that occasionally gets lost under the cybernetic chatter. Much of the world-building was set up in the preceding novel, so it feels slightly less bogged down in explanation than Gemsigns was. The pace is quicker and more thrilling, and the reader has more time to invest in the characters. In Gemsigns it sometimes felt as if the idea was the star, here it’s the Gems, fighting to retain their newly recognised humanity in the face of Klist’s machinations. It’s a smartly-written sequel that improves on its predecessor, alive with ideas and intelligence (and yes, heart). A first-class second novel.
on 16 April 2014
I have read Binary in over a number of days, having to limit my reading time in order not to finish it in one sitting, as I found the thought of finishing it too hard to countenance. Having finished it, I am desolate...months stretch ahead before the final (don't even go there!) part of the triology is published, and I will have to face the inevitable end of the (R)evolution story. This is a wonderful book by a truely awesome story teller - it is worth your time and effort and money, and the emotiomal investment you find yourself making in Aryel Morningstar. It is brilliantly written with a plot that moves so fast it makes you breathless, but the world of gems and norms is utterly convincing, and the story compelling. I can't wait for the final part of the tale.