25 August 2011

Post 418: Tankborn

Tankborn by Karen Sandler. ISBN: 9781600606625 (eGalley - publishes: September 28, 2011*)

I gotta say, I am glad to see some variety in skin color in science fiction, especially Young Adult science fiction. There is a huge problem with sci-fi authors white washing everything, like they somehow expect skin color to Not Be a Thing in the future. I'm willing to believe that we'll get over the whole pasty skin = good, dark skin = bad issue, but it seems to me that in the future we're all likely to be some shade of pale or medium brown. Especially if that future occurs in space with smaller populations than we currently have. Eventually the skin tone just has to even out.

However, Sandler sets up a world in which skin tone matters and there is a reason why there is still a variety in skin tone. The socioeconomic hierarchy, comprised of four classes (highborn, lowborn, freeborn, and GENs), is mostly based on appearance as well as the owning of a special kind of land. Interestingly, highborns are neither too pale nor too dark and have "desirable" hair colors, which were never explicitly described. Lowborns had less land, and at least tended to have skin that was too pale or too dark. Finally, freeborns were brought to the planet as indentured servants until they began grumbling about that servitude lasting too long and thus GENs were created. GENs are beings with incorporated animal DNA for added strength or nurturing skills or whatever else you want your slaves to be able to do. They are also equipped with an annexed digital brain and digital interface (through a "tattoo" on the cheek), which allows anyone with the appropriate technology to relay commands directly to the GENs nervous system.

It is interesting that the lowest order of people in this setting are given the super powers. Granted they are also subjugated, but in a world where power and class are so important, the only thing keeping highborns from demanding they be spliced with animal DNA so they can be extra strong, smart, whatever, is the fact that GENs are seen as dirty or inferior. Although the society is set up so that the upper classes still benefit from this technology, I find it hard to believe that a power hungry, corrupt politician or businessman wouldn't at least consider adding an extra advantage by giving themselves an annexed brain and perhaps super hearing. Surely the cheek tattoo is mostly for convenience and could be planted elsewhere, and then there wouldn't even be evidence that you'd had it done.

The blend of appearance and technology/genetic alteration in this novel as a means of separating the classes was interesting. I kind of wish it had gone further, but it was a good means of explaining the existence of various skin tones and I definitely applaud Sandler for allowing them to even exist in her novel when so many authors avoid the issue altogether.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by Netgalley.
*Maybe. There seems to be conflicting dates floating around the internet. The publisher just says September.

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