Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Odyssey Gene

by Kfir Luzzatto


The title of The Odyssey Gene seems to promise a novel based on hard science and genetics, but this is a little misleading. Whilst there are elements of those things, Kfir Luzzatto's first full-length work of science fiction is really a story about politics, love, and prejudice.

John Hektor is a programmer with prospects, until one day he gets a promotion. In order to fill the post, he has to be tested for a certain gene. Unfortunately for him he is found D-positive, which bars him from promotion. Overnight he becomes a social pariah. His girlfriend drops him, family and friends shun him, his marriage and work prospects are severely limited, and he is considered a threat to the social order.

Yet D-positive people aren't that different from anyone else. The gene confers immunity to a plague that ravaged the human population in the past, but now the plague has disappeared. All that remains is the prejudice and suspicion.

Like a recently outed gay in a homophobic society, John winds up frequenting disreputable "positive" bars and getting to grips with his limitations. Soon he is persuaded to leave Earth altogether for Andania, a haven for positives. On the long journey there he meets and falls in love with Dana, who is working as a hostess on the spaceship.

However, on arrival John is drafted into the Andanian army. He discovers that, far from being a promised land of freedom and liberty, it's a brutal frontier country in a state of perpetual bloody war. The New Australians, or Newists, were there first, and they see the Andanians as usurpers occupying what is rightfully theirs. On the front line of battle John witnesses Newist atrocities, and this fixes his opinion of them from the beginning. It's easy to see this story as an allegory of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

After rising through the ranks to lieutenant, John is recruited into a political role. It isn't apparent what his function is. Something is afoot, but he hangs around for a while without really knowing what he is supposed to be doing. Meanwhile his superiors seem obsessed with minor points of protocol, face-saving, scheming, and spying on each other. The straight-laced, straight-talking John is frustrated by all of this.

However, the pace is never allowed to slacken to the point where nothing is going on. Luzatto has a knack for pulling something out of the bag just when we are wondering where this is all going. The Odyssey Gene is full of intrigue and action.

This novel is far more space opera than hard science fiction, to the point that the gene in question is barely mentioned. It's not a matter of an urgent search for a cure. The Odyssey Gene concentrates on one man's reaction to war, discrimination and the political backstabbing that goes on. This singular viewpoint is one of the novel's problems. According to John the Newists are animals, barbarians with no conscience who can't be reasoned with. We don't get to see the opposing point of view at all. This very black-and-white picture dehumanises the villains and makes them into dull stereotypes.

The Odyssey Gene reads a lot like the first book of a series. It works up to a climax, but unfortunately leaves us hanging with a lot of questions left unanswered. We don't learn the fates of several of the central characters, for instance. Even for the first in a series, there isn't quite enough closure at the end to make this a satisfying read of itself. On the other hand, there is enough substance to it to make a sequel worth hoping for.

Book Details

Year: 2006

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
    Male Protagonist  

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3 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
More about Kfir Luzzatto


Wendy     31st October, 2006 15:44pm

I thought it was a great book. It definitely took my by surprise because I'm not usually into this genre, but it was really captivating! Read it!

Tom     8th December, 2006 16:50pm

This is a GREAT book! I can't get it out of my head and each time I think about it I see new ideas in it. It really hooked me.