by Aurelio O'BrienMost visions of the fourth millennium depict a technological world of huge machines, gleaming spaceships and smart gadgets for your every need. Not so Aurelio O'Brien's Eve, which looks to a future in which technology has been superseded by biological perfection. The inhabitants of Earth have brought themselves eternal youth through genetic manipulation, and they live in a paradise where there every whim is catered for by Creature Comforts™, engineered biomass which exists purely to please them.
Eve is narrated by Pentser, an outlawed robot with a talent for evasiveness, manipulation and sarcasm. He claims that he is "not burdened by emotions", but he does resent the fact that people don't consider him to be alive, and he does have needs and desires. In the 31st century functioning robots and other technological devices have been outlawed. Yet Govil, an engineer working for GenieCorp™, is keeping Pentser at his home and allowing him to operate in secret.
Aurelio O'Brien has the kind of outrageous creative imagination you might expect of an animator. Those bizarre creatures on the cover actually appear in the book, and the rules governing this future world are even more bizarre. In order to distinguish themselves from lower forms of life, humans have taken to calling themselves Randoms and have divorced themselves from their biological heritage. Biological childbirth is stigmatised, familial relationships are strongly discouraged, and sex between Randoms is a "soupable" offence. Indeed anything that harks back to the "Age of Death" is taboo, and Randoms like to think they are above the messiness of the cycles of creation and destruction. Money has also been abolished in this brave new world, and since GenieCorp™ took over all the other companies and became the world government, politics has also fallen by the wayside. If a lot of this seems unlikely and contrary to the competitive drives of human nature, consider that if you can breed out violent tendencies, what else can you eliminate?
The world of Eve appears to be a calm yet dull paradise where bored Randoms pamper themselves and play out fantasies using a never-ending variety of Creature Comforts™. This apparent pleasantness makes for a slow start, and for a while it seems as though this will be a nice yet odd story in which nothing really happens. But Govil senses that something is missing, whilst Pentser is hugely frustrated by his circumscribed existence. Govil sneaks into work one night to create Eve, the first new Random to be born in centuries.
Eve is an imperfect woman, unique and fallible rather than some sort of ideal superwoman. She has a lot to learn about Random society. Both Govil and Pentser try to mould her into the woman they want her to be, but whilst they are doing the Pygmalion thing an investigation is going on that puts all of their lives in danger. If Eve is discovered they could all be destroyed for committing some of the few capital offences that still exist.
Eve is the sort of person who gets upset when recyclable creatures die, noticing the cruelty of this world where others have learned to turn a blind eye. Pentser may have his own agenda, but you can't help but feel for the sly old robot as his schemes fail to go to plan in the face of human unpredictability. Eve is set in a cartoon world, silly and often grotesque. However it's also biting satire that has a lot to say about the way we categorise other lifeforms and treat them as possessions, and the ways we find to justify this to ourselves. This is thought-provoking, original science fiction that's relevant to the present day as well as thoroughly entertaining. You'll never look at genetic modification the same way again.
Review © Ros Jackson