Generation by William Knight (2011)
Journalist Hendrix ‘Aitch’ Harrison links bodies stolen from a renowned forensic-research lab to an influential drug company. Aided by Sarah Wallace, a determined and beguiling entomologist, he delves into a grisly world of clinical trials and a viral treatment beyond imagining. But Aitch must battle more than his fear of technology to expose the macabre fate of the drugged victims donated to scientific research.
In 2001, scientists isolated the gene for regenerating damaged organs from the DNA of a South American flatworm. Within five years it had been spliced into the chromosomes of a rhesus monkey, transported through the cell walls by a retro-virus denuded of its own genetic material. Attempting to regrow impaired or elderly tissues, a scientist will one day modify the DNA of human beings by injecting the gene-carrying virus. It is just a matter of time.
Before consenting to treatment, you may want to ask a simple question: could there be a situation in which you would want to die but were unable to do so?
Generation pitches itself as a “crime-thriller with an injection of horror” and “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo meets the X-Files.” That’s an accurate description of the concept, but not of the quality.
Hendrix Harrison, the protagonist, is a British Mikael Blomkvist with Fox Mulder’s interest in the paranormal, and he uncovers a conspiracy surrounding an experimental drug treatment that turns its test subjects into the living dead. The concept is intriguing, and I was hooked by the prologue and the body horror. I love my body horror and Knight knows how to write it excellently.
A row of teeth ran alongside a swollen tongue and Hendrix tried to discern where the tongue ended and the lips began. Translucent red skin was stretched tight across the chin and one cheek providing a window on a network of black veins and white nervous tissue. It was a mass of putrescent flesh dripping onto the pillow, soaking into the sheets, and being washed down the drain every time Thora cleaned.
While many of the horror elements are good, Generation is not a solid thriller in its current form. The first 25% of the book is a massive infodump, and I would have stopped reading it if I didn’t commit to writing a review. Sometimes, a slow build-up to the conflict is effective in horror fiction (Voice by Joseph Garraty is an example, and that’s a five-star book), but in Generation, it’s simply tedium. There are scenes of boardroom meetings, corporate Powerpoint presentations, lonely meals in greasy pubs, long-distance drives to meet with leads that go nowhere… it felt like it was going exactly in that direction–nowhere. But it significantly improves as the story goes on, and it fully hits its stride at the 75% mark.
This would have been a leaner and meaner book if chapter 10 was the beginning, and the background info in previous chapters were included in subsequent scenes that moved the plot forward. The novel has potential but there needs to be more focus on what’s important.
There was an obligatory sex scene that took place without foreshadowing (out-of-character sex seems to be the domain of thrillers, no idea why), and it was awkward because it disrupted the momentum of the story. It happened during a race-and-chase portion of the plot where the protagonists could be gunned down. I read on while thinking “This is the last thing I care about!”, flipping through it with growing frustration, hoping that the scene wasn’t too long because I wanted to get back to the story. I apologize for being crude, but the experience can only be described as the “reader blueball”.
The prose itself is good, and I could tell that the author was an experienced writer, but likely not as experienced with fiction. Small mistakes litter the work: typos, awkward adjectives (“rain-coloured sky”), redundant sentences summarizing the previous paragraph, problems with compound words, and so on. I’m not a professional editor, and I focus on enjoying the story as reader, but the mistakes kept on taking me away from the story.
Some of the differences in compound words are likely a difference in British spellings (I’m a reader based in Canada), and I’ve reviewed books by other British writers, but none of these differences bothered me. I think it’s because the errors in this book kept on switching on my inner editor and I couldn’t help but scrutinize the most minor of details.
I didn’t warm up to the characters at first, I actually had trouble telling them apart because their characterizations were so bland. But I grew to like them and root for them once Big Pharma was out to tear them apart limb from limb. This happened midway through the book, and again, I wish it took place earlier.
Overall, Generation has its moments, and it has the foundations for a solid sci-fi/horror conspiracy thriller. Unfortunately, it’s not polished enough in its current form, but I hope there will be a re-edited version. Considering the major problems with story focus, pacing and infodumping, I’m not ready to read another full-length novel by this author. But Knight writes excellent body horror, so if he has some short horror fiction, I’d definitely be interested.
You might like this if you like…
A British Mikael Blomkvist with Fox Mulder’s interest in the paranormal; body horror; evil Big Pharma; conspiracy thrillers; zombies; near future sci-fi
William Knight is a British born journalist and technologist currently living and working in Wellington, New Zealand. In 2003 he published his first feature in Computing magazine and has since written about the many successes and failings of high-tech for the Guardian, Financial Times and the BBC among many others publications. He continues to maintain a lively IT consultancy.
April 23 update: I received an email from an author stating that the ebook available on Amazon is a recently edited version and a significant improvement over my review copy.
Posted on April 19, 2012, in 2 stars, Dark fiction and Horror, Ebook Reviews, Frida Reviewed, Generation, Military SF and Thrillers, William Knight and tagged body horror, zombies. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a Comment.