by Nick Sagan
Review by Rafe Conn
Bantam Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0553815989
Date: 01 August, 2005 List Price £6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Edenborn is the sequel to the critically praised Idlewild, Sagan's first novel, a book which takes humanity to the brink of extinction. The only survivors of this catastrophe are genetically engineered 'post-humans' specifically designed to survive the 'Black-Ep', a horrendously thorough virus that has lain dormant long enough to infect absolutely everybody before showing symptoms. Ten children have been placed in Matrix-like pods and hooked up to a total immersion virtual reality and they only discover that their world does not actually exist when one of their number loses the plot, aged eighteen and starts killing off his peers.
The hero of Idlewild, Halloween, one of these teenagers, uses his computer skills to wake out of cyber-slumber and deal with his psychotic former best-mate. It seems that the Gadaecthnis Corporation, facing the inevitable end of humanity, has created these 10 to survive, wake, and then resurrect humanity through an ambitious cloning programme. What Gadaechtnis had not counted on was the inherently out-freaking nature of discovering that one's entire world ( parents, school, friends, experiences etc. ) was taking place in entirely virtual environment. This is not, not surprisingly therefore, a well balanced group of individuals.
Edenborn opens eighteen years later with this group now made disparate, riven with paranoia and suspicion. Will they bring back humanity? Can they? Do they even want to?
Three of the group are working together and have created more 'post-humans' as they seem to be the only ones capable of surviving 'Black Ep', which is still extant and still as dangerous. Penelope, whose diary entries we read, is one of the 'children' they have created, and boy, does she have problems!
Another of the original group has actually cloned humans and raised them as good Muslims. It is one of these clones, Haji, who is one of the central characters of the novel. He is a true believer, following the mystical Sufi path of Islam which provides him with a very necessary coping mechanism in this sparsely populated world.
Halloween, meanwhile, has gone away, declaring that the rest of the group's motives and methods are dubious. He must try to overcome the guilt he feels at killing his best friend and the emotional violence of discovering his world to age eighteen was a fiction. Another of the group, Fantasia, has withdrawn completely.
Emotionally damaged survivors try to raise their emotionally damaged 'offspring'. Inevitably there is a lot of angst, bickering and hatred, which puts the novel on a simmer from the start, gradually turning up the heat to boiling point. The original groups' bizarre formative years empower the novel and the scenarios therefore remain plausible. How can we know how anyone would react to waking up in the bath, essentially having dreamt the entire first 18 years of their lives?
Edenborn is the second novel in what is most likely a trilogy. As such one cannot expect much resolution of plot, instead we can look forward to that in the next volume. For the moment, our curiosity is captured by the world Sagan has created -- a place where the future of humanity depends on a tiny number of whimsical individuals whose agendas remain tantalizingly obscure.
Both books are extremely well designed. In Edenborn each character has an icon which is shown at the beginning of their chapter, a small but effective visual ploy which makes the book literally more interesting to read. I could have stood more of these graphics, they reminded me a little of Kurt Vonnegut's novels where a page may be devoted to a drawing or a sketch in the middle of a page is used to illustrate a point in the text.
Edenborn is not as exciting as Idlewild, not so much of a page turner, but it is interesting and left me intrigued and curious. I look forward to the next in the series.