Science fiction is all the rage in YA and MG literature these days. Impish boy wizards who battle dark lords have been replaced largely by tough young women who rage against the machine. As a life-long lover of science fiction I have found this to be an exciting time in my reading life.
This assertion that science fiction is the current reigning champion assumes that dystopian fiction is its sub-genre. Although this has been debated a bit, I feel comfortable recognizing it as such because dystopias are generally set in the future and often describe advanced technology. That said, it seems like the current crop of YA dystopias tend to be more about the politics than the science.
That’s what makes Kat Falls’ Inhuman a refreshingly satisfying read. She is putting the “science” back in science fiction. In Falls’ future United States, a wall has been constructed along the Mississippi River, separating the “West” from the infected and uninhabitable East, which fell victim to an accidental exposure to the Ferae virus and resulted in the loss of 40 percent of the American population. The origin of the virus? An amusement park industry giant, the Titan Corporation, was using Ferae to create animal hybrids to terrify the guests at its labyrinth-style theme parks. The outbreak caused infected humans to gradually mutate into “manimal” hybrids and at an indeterminate point (sometimes years later) to completely revert to animalistic behavior, including attacking and killing humans. Falls not only thoroughly explains the disease’s symptoms, progression, and transmission while maintaining the flow of the narrative, but she also relates precautions humans can take to protect themselves and scientists’ efforts to isolate strains of Ferae to find a cure for the disease.
If this isn’t fascinating enough for you, know that Inhuman is also a grand adventure. Sixteen-year-old Lane is torn from her world of hand sanitizers and almost no kissing (!) when government agents accuse her art dealer father of being a “fetch”: someone who goes into the Feral Zone in the East to retrieve valuable objects from decimated places–for a price. Although Lane is fearful of the Feral Zone, she realizes that her father actually prepared her for such an excursion by telling her bedtime stories about a little girl who visited a faraway land fraught with perils–stories which give her clues to endure her survival in the East. Soon after arriving, Lane meets two young men: Everson, a line guard at the wall, and Rafe, who has survived in the East since being orphaned as a young boy. A sort of love triangle ensues, as does a series of harrowing encounters with Chorda, a tiger/human hybrid. Lane’s journey to find her father in the Feral Zone is a hazardous one, and It is evident as the book draws to a close that this is the first in a series–a series that is sure to be new favorite among many teens and preteens.
Kat Falls not only tells a great story, but she also writes great science into her science fiction. She attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as an undergrad, and she has documented the great deal of research she did for her MG books Dark Life and Rip Tide. It is evident that she took the same great care in crafting Inhuman, which will be published by Scholastic this September 24th.