To earn her freedom, she has to survive the deadliest race on Earth
The tests never stopped. You’ll be fine, they said. You’re nearly indestructible.
She knew it was a lie. Genetic test subjects like her usually died by thirty, and they always died in pain.
But on her 21st birthday, she’s given a chance to escape the lab. She just has to run in the deadliest race on earth.
“Vivid and fast-paced, Run Lab Rat Run explores the coming era of human augmentation at every level, from scientific to ethical, asking ‘What if every possibility comes true? Might we split into dozens of species?’ This is the real deal in speculative fiction.” – David Brin, author of The Postman and Existence.
“Gattaca meets the Hunger Games in this dystopian science fiction adventure” – K.A. Fox, USA Today Bestselling Author of the Murphy’s Law
“Shawn C. Butler pulls the reader into a world of genetic enhancements and mutations, artificial intelligence, robots and implants…a cautionary tale; a complex, thought-provoking and twisted story of specieism and discrimination, competition, power and control.” – ReadingCafe
“I was instantly immersed in the book. Such fantastic, descriptive language without being verbose. Written so that it was a scarily believable future. A strong female lead who is also beautifully flawed such that we can empathise with her.” – Isobel Ross, Ultra Runner & Coach
“A fun and entertaining read that presents science fiction in a very believable way. Brilliant metaphors and imagery that could only be written by someone with personal experience in pushing a body to its limits.” – Tim Y
“Shawn Butler presents us with a glimpse into this possible future in an entertaining tale of an athletic competition gone mad.” – Lazarus Lake (aka Gary Cantrell), Founder of the Barkley Marathons
Shawn C. Butler is the award-winning author of Run Lab Rat Run, the first book in the Modified series about genetic engineering, human modification, and our often violent search for immortality. He lives in Southern California. You can visit him online at shawncbutler.com or on Twitter @ShawnButler. You might even find him out running the trails of San Jacinto when he’s not injured like the natural he is.
A thriller that brings to the light the potential nuances of human genetic modification. While the naive among us may think of eliminating horrible genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis with genetic modification, let's face it, in a world where we cannot agree providing adequate health care for poor people, the scenario presented here is completely believable. The rich elite get genetic modifications. Everyone else just suffers in a dystopian world.
Feisty Media is an employee/test subject for TTI Labs. She lives a limited, highly constrained life in the lab, in a time when wealthy people purchase genetic enhancements such as super-human strength, endurance, fighting ability and all-around insane mental abilities that are tested on our heroine. Despite being dealt this poor hand of cards in life, Media is a lively optimist determined to make the best of things. She is actually quite enjoyable to spend time with, even if she is fictional.
Through a series of events, Media is given a chance to run in a bonkers ultra-marathon-ish race. This is where the book gets fun, even for us non-modified, borderline couch potatoes. Lots of entertainment here: weirdly modified super animals, increasingly difficult obstacles to overcome, violent competitors, morally ambiguous villains/heroes, family loyalties, a forbidden romance and some possible internecine corporate strife.
I recommend this book to most. Haters of science fiction wouldn't enjoy this, nor would those who profoundly dislike competitive sports. I'm not a big science fiction fan, but will read the odd dystopian novel, so this book worked quite well as viable entertainment for me.
I'm knocking off one star, for a 4/5 star review, as I would have liked greater background on how this dystopian society came to develop. I realize that many people enjoy a more streamlined thriller, but heck, I read Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies for fun, so it could just be my preference. At any rate, I recommend this book as quality escapist literature with the added brain candy of how genetic modification could play out in a dystopian, barely regulated society.
Media Conaill was birthed and raised in a bio-engineering lab, where numerous genetic modifications were tested on her. On her 21st birthday, she is invited to take part in an Ultra Marathon, a race run this year by both synthetics and naturals. Excited to finally be allowed out of the lab she grew up in, Media jumps at the chance for a small sliver of freedom.
The races are designed to test the capability of humans, both natural and modified. However, as one of the few beta models competing, Media is at a distinct disadvantage. Not only must she face the dangerous obstacles of the race courses; she must also fight her growing feelings for natural runner, Danny, feelings which illicit hatred from the public. Furthermore, certain individuals have made it their mission to sabotage Media’s efforts in the races, endangering her very life.
Can Media complete the race she’s set her heart on? More importantly, will Media be the same person by the end of the races?
Media Conaill, nicknamed ‘Fiddy’ by her brother, is a 21 year old lab-rat who has spent most of her life inside of a bio-engineering lab as a test subject for various genetic modifications. She has a tricky relationship with people, having never had much time to spend with family or friends. We learn, when she’s preparing for the marathon races, that she has a particular fascination with predatory animals, a theme which runs throughout the book. Symbolically, we see Media begin with the view that she is a predator, only later to discover that she is as much prey as anyone else on the marathon courses. Finally, through hard work and endurance, she comes to see herself as a predator in her own right, as a tough and dangerous animal deserving of others respect. Her narration throughout demonstrated a fun sense of humour that made her easy to like; I particularly enjoyed how she would give random body parts or animals fun nicknames. In addition, Media proved herself to be stubborn, impulsive, and persistent in the pursuit of her goals, which only endeared her to me more.
Tommy, Media’s goofy brother is an athletically modified human, who has previously run in the marathons. As such, he acted as a source of additional information for Media as she entered the marathons for the first time. Tommy showed himself to be open, a kind and caring individual that always had people’s backs. He preferred people to get along and proved to be a loyal and protective brother, always doing his best to help Media as she progressed through the races. His fun-loving and playful nature when around Media left me with warm fuzzy feelings.
Danny, a natural runner didn’t appear to play a big part in the story at first. I half expected that he would be used to make a point about naturals and would then be forgotten. However, I was pleasantly surprised when this was not the case. ‘Danny, Daniel, Dan’ as Media affectionately refers to him, has a powerful athletic form for an unmodified human and demonstrated the sheer willpower that natural humans have at their disposal. He had a playful personality and seemed to accept his position in life, despite his poor background. He proved to be a selfless and kind individual, doing everything he could to help improve his family’s way of living. It wasn’t hard to see why Media fell for him as he allowed her to just be herself around him, without having to act the part of the ‘socially-better’ modified. Danny provided a unique contrast to the modified characters in that he was one of only few naturals to participate in the races. To me, he was a shining beacon of true humanity’s potential, carrying on even when all hope looks to have been lost.
Coach, a synthetic advisor to Media’s marathon team, was a very interesting character. Despite being a synthetic, he was unusually emotive. Although he does explain that his apparent free will is simply an illusion created by his coders, he often stumps Media at how visibly human he seems. For one, he was pushy in a way that showed Media how much he cared for her wellbeing. He was also curious, full of questions for a synthetic, which only added to his very human-like nature. I felt that his character pushed the boundaries of how people in Media’s world viewed synthetics. He certainly caused Media to question his humanity, considering the difference between true human nature and a simulated version.
Although there are multiple antagonistic individuals in this story, I’ve chosen to focus on the example of Jessica for the purpose of this review. Jessica, also a runner in the marathons, is an augmented; a highly modified human being that possesses incredible levels of strength and speed. This cruel and self-important young woman was immediately dislikeable, treating Media as though she were no more than dirt. She had a particularly distasteful attitude toward naturals and did whatever she wanted during the races, no matter who it ended up hurting. Beautiful but deadly, Jessica is tasked with making sure Media knows her place in the races. In every scene she appeared in, she gave me chills as I imagined going up against her myself, fearing I would lose.
There was so much that I enjoyed with Run Lab Rat Run. Below are just a few key examples.
-The character’s narration had a memorable voice with a strong personality.
-The world building is amazing, set 100 years or so into the future, where humanity is heavily genetically modified. There was lots of impressive detail included, adding much needed context to certain scenes.
-I especially liked how the social hierarchy of the world was explained, with ‘naturals’ at the bottom and an idealized, near-fully genetically-engineered self at the top. There is much discussion about the polarizing nature of such a futuristic society, with naturals being treated as sub-human, and ‘modified’ being the norm.
-I liked that each section of the race course had a brief description, as if from a news team. It made it easier to picture each part and to understand the specific risks involved.
-There were layers of conflict and tension explored (external, internal, and interpersonal), which were woven seamlessly throughout the book.
As always, I kept my eyes peeled for quotes which sparked something in me. While reading Run Lab Rat Run, I came across many quotes which caused me to stop and think, however, I settled on the following four as I believe they had the greatest impact.
1) ‘A I thought about what Berrick had said, about the way of the world, and how people always stood on top of others. About hierarchy and class, and how it changes but never changes at the same time. Where I fit and where I didn’t.’
This quote shows Media questioning where she belongs in the world. Having spent her life as a modified lab rat, she initially thought herself better than naturals. Now, seeing those who are more heavily modified than her makes her question her previous outlook.
2) ‘Almost everyone who had PAs subscribed to the grand illusion, a changing set of visual themes applied to everything- Everyone saw what they wanted, how they wanted, unless of course they didn’t have PAs and then they saw this ugliness, or reality, which seemed to be the same thing.’
In a way, Media’s world draws a parallel with our own. The filters they use to alter their reality can be likened to our own modern life and social media. Similarly, filters are placed over us and our lives, masking reality in false impressions. Even in our world, people see what they want to see, dismissing what disinterests them, or what they don’t agree with.
3) ‘Naturals died- maybe it was easier if we pretended not to care, but it still didn’t feel right.’
Here, we see Media questioning how naturals are treated as subhuman. The most human part of her doesn’t feel right about this, yet her social upbringing would see her treat naturals as lesser than herself. It is seen as easier to pretend that naturals aren’t human and worthwhile, that their lives don’t mean as much, but Media feels her humanity fighting against these socially-conditioned notions of superiority and inferiority.
4) ‘You feed the illusion, or everything falls apart- people need their distractions.’
This quote hit me the hardest as there was something fundamentally true about it. Illusions are often easily shattered in life. Thus, people must keep up the pretence at all costs, never wavering in their belief in the illusion for more than a millisecond. It must constantly be emphasized, so that people buy into it. Likewise, distractions help people not to consider the harsh and unfair nature of reality; they seek pleasure so they can forget pain. However, ignoring the problems of the world doesn’t make them go away. Such problems only continue to grow. If the illusion shatters and we are forced to face said problems, maybe we would take them more seriously.
Run Lab Rat Run proved to be an insightful and gripping read, surrounding core themes of society, discrimination, and genetic modification. It is a story primarily exploring the different attitudes to naturals and modifides, showcasing how the naturals are seen as weak, and the modifides deemed better versions of a long-forgotten humanity.
It was a highly thought-provoking read, discussing important issues that may one day become more relevant in our everyday lives.
My Rating: 5 stars. Recommended to: lovers of gripping futuristic tales with themes of society, inequality, and genetic modification.
RUN LAB RAT RUN is the first instalment in Shawn C. Butler’s futuristic MODIFIED sci-fi, dystopian series focusing on twenty-one year old ‘Baseline’ Media Conaill.
Told from first person perspective (Media) RUN LAB RAT RUN follows twenty-one year old ‘Baseline’ Media Conaill as she is invited to participate in the Modified Marathons, the most dangerous ultra-marathon in the world for enhanced runners but Media is not quite an enhanced human, our heroine is a human guinea pig; an embryonic lab rat sold by her parents to TTI, the TrumaniTech Corporation, in the aftermath of the Chromes Wars. Flagged for exceptional characteristics, Media would become the ward of TTI, a ‘baseline’ subjected to all sorts of entry level genetic modifications. As a Beta, Media would be the one of the few early-stage human subjects but in doing so, her lifespan would be great affected, not expected to live beyond thirty years. In an effort to release her brother and her family from obligations to TTI, Media accepted the invitation to the marathons, marathons that would prove to be more challenging and revealing than she could have ever imagined. With each successive leg of the marathon, Media’s endurance, speed and power increase, raising red flags with the officials, competitors, and ultimately the world outside.
RUN LAB RAT RUN is a story of both speculative and science fiction wherein the modification of human DNA becomes the norm for the rich and famous, and the old ‘normals’ or non-modified humans are treated with disdain and discrimination, relegated to the slums and less than optimal living conditions. Open to the best of the best, the Modified Marathons is akin to the ‘Hunger Games’™ such that to win means to save the lives of the people back home. Working together, each team selected has a mentor, a coach, and a various modified human competitors. Many will die; aggression and individual targeting the norm; success is the exception to the rule especially in a world struggling with the affects of global warming and environmental disasters.
Shawn C Butler pulls the reader into a world of genetic enhancements and mutations, artificial intelligence, robots and implants. There are examples of anthropomorphism, super human strength and speed, backroom deals, manipulations, secrets and lies all in an effort to create the ultimate warrior –for good or evil.
RUN LAB RAT RUN is a cautionary tale; a complex, thought-provoking and twisted story of specieism and discrimination, competition, power and control. My only complaint would be the lack of background information regarding the Chrome Wars, the environmental disasters, and the history as to how and why the world of enhanced human modifications came to be.
RUN LAB RAT RUN ends on a bit of a cliff hanger-you have been warned.
This is an exciting cyberpunk adventure with a badass and flawed female protagonist. The book explores inequalities resulting from genetic modifications. On the one hand, there are new challenges and injustices, but on the other hand, they are very familiar, even though they come in a slightly different flavor. The author constructed a complex and believable world. The protagonist was likeable, complex and felt like a real person. I enjoyed watching her arc. Other characters also felt real and distinct, even though the reader doesn't get to know them too well (which is natural for the first person narrative from the protagonist's POV). The plot was intriguing and exciting, sustaining my interest from start to finish. I also loved the author's writing style and his sense of humor. Humor is an integral part of this book, woven expertly into the narrative. It hit perfect balance for me where it made me laugh but didn't distance me from the protagonist's struggles. Sometimes, humorous books feel like nothing is serious, and even if the characters deal with something extremely difficult, I don't feel invested in their fate because it all feels like a joke. It wasn't the case here. I was in the moment with Media, rooted and worried for her and raged at the injustices of the world, but I also laughed and felt amused many times throughout the book. I will keep reading the series. You might enjoy the book if you like cyberpunk, badass and imperfect female protagonists, are interested in genetic engineering and / or marathons and like your books spiced with a generous but not overwhelming amount of humor.
Media Conaill Is A Smart-Alek Genetic Test Subject
Media was chosen at conception as a child with “exceptional characteristics” and was soon sold by her parents and whisked off to an incubator at the world’s fourth largest biotechnology company. There she became the leading test subject for entry-level genetic modifications. When she was presented with the option of competing in the Modified Marathons, the hardest and most dangerous ultra-marathon in the world, for a chance to become a free woman she jumped at the opportunity.
I don’t normally read this type of book, but I was intrigued by the premise and once I started reading I was hooked. Media lives in a new kind of world but some of the stigmatisms are right out of today’s headlines. There are different classes of people, rulers, elites, and workers and there are different rules and outcomes for all, decided by bureaucrats. It was a fun and interesting journey to follow Media through her days and learn the results. A good story, I highly recommend you read it.
Run Lab Rat Run is an entertaining and powerful allegory for racism and class prejudice in our society. Shawn Butler has created a rich and believable future world in which genetic enhancement, for those who can afford it, crates a sharp “haves-and-have-nots” distinction in his dystopian society. Media, his protagonist, battles not only outside forces which seek to keep her in her place, but inner turmoil as well as she confronts guilt for aspiring to a higher station. Throw in a romance forbidden by the worlds strict class structure, and you have a tale with something for everyone. Science fiction, romance, humor, extreme sports and adventure are packed into a really fun read.
This book is a prime example of an exceptionally detailed, socially perceptive, and extraordinarily powerful work of art. This is the type of author that makes you question societal norms, ethical and spiritual issues about politics, and philosophies about the choices we make as humans to survive in a very challenged modern world. He should win a Pulitzer for this. And perhaps get an invitation to write an episode of Black Mirror, since he knows how to challenge the mind and keep us thinking and questioning.
I got along well with the heroine. She was very human, holding on where she could and fighting like hell. Parts were inhumane, how she, Media, was used and abused and how her parents created the situation. Sold her for a better family. Media spends a lot of time trying to see that side, indeed acknowledging it. I rooted for her and knew unless she died, she would survive and in a lot of ways win.
If you love science fiction, dystopian, adventure and/or extreme sports, you'll love Media and become engrossed in the world she lives in. A world where genetic modification is the norm, where people can be property, and class is determined by how modified you are - or are not. Hope there will be more to come in this futuristic society.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It's futuristic and dystopian, but the characters have personalities that we can identify with today. In particular, the main character has a fun personality. The frequent dark humor is hilarious, including the over-the-top dangers that the protagonist is subjected to. The ending seemed a bit abrupt to me, but it is the first book of a series.
Run Lab Rat Run is genuinely a better than Good Read. I cannot wait to reread it! Every page had me laughing, engaged, and curious. Between being a runner and interested with potential human future this book hit the absolute sweet spot. Go Media go!
Run Lab Rat was a great book, I would totally recommend. Feisty Media is lively and interesting to read about, and the plot is great, I really enjoyed it. This dystopian society is interesting, and I found it very engrossing.
I learned about the Barkley Marathons in March 2023 and have basically become obsessed with consuming everything I can involving it. There are very few books, including non-fiction, about the Marathons and one day during a search, Run Lab Rat Run came up as a recommendation. Based on the description, I understood why. What I didn't expect was the dozens of mentions of the Barkley Marathons and Laz throughout this book! It was the most pleasant surprise.
My head tells me this felt like a 3 star to me, but my heart is telling me that I have to give it a 4/5. The Barkley connection is making me round up because I am so, so glad that this book exists. It kept me so intrigued and I didn't want to put it down. Shawn C Butler is an incredible author, and one I hope to read more from. I laughed out loud multiple times as I read this, I even cried! He truly made me care so much about Media.
...which is why my rating isn't a 5 star. I did not love the way that this book ended, in multiple aspects. It didn't feel like a happy ending. Do books need a happy ending? Not necessarily. But I found myself really loving Media as I read about her, and caring for her and what was going to happen to her. And the way this book played out overall just didn't give me the hope that I think I wanted to see. Obviously that's a totally personal feeling, and my rating is totally personal as well. I am super happy to see that so many other readers loved it and it was a 5 star book for them.
I also personally didn't care about the Jessica storyline, which was pretty prominent. And I do understand why, I just didn't care for it. There were a lot of characters in this book, and many were really well defined. Sometimes with a lot of characters, details can be more vague. Coach especially totally won my heart over.
By no means am I disappointed that I read this, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book, especially to fans of the Barkley Marathons. I just wish it had ended up being a favourite for me, and it unfortunately wasn't.
The race event itself, and all the main character invested in it, hooked me.
I might have sprung for a 5 rating but there were things about this novel I was impatient with (like the casual declaration the rising global temperature from carbon emissions had been reversed... almost by accident (yeah, like that's gonna happen.)
I was also somewhat impatient with the main character Media/Fiddy's oft-mentioned stubbornness because at times it was pretty contradictory--one stubborn choice contradicting another, older and more compelling one. There's also more than a little uncredited Hunger Games perversity and death-mongering in the air.
Still, I enjoyed the book quite a lot and it really hooked me into the extreme race at the centre of the story, partly because of my recreational runner experience of marathons and road races years ago, and all the years of running and cycling after those. It was fun at the end to read the "Postface" by the real life Barkley Marathons founder, a reference in the novel I had taken as fictional.