Kennedy Brandt's Reviews > Murder Genes

Murder Genes by Mikael Aizen
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's review
Jun 13, 2011

really liked it
Read in May, 2011

Murder Genes, the debut novel from author Mikael Aizen, is at times a very difficult read — not because it isn’t well written, but because it’s very well written but tackles subject matter that will make many readers’ skin crawl.

Who am I? Who are we? Are we true, self-directed individuals, or mindless slaves to our inherited genetic makeup? With genes being identified that may account for the capability to believe in religion, brain structures that determine liberal or conservative political leanings, and neuro-electric/neuro-chemical states to explain near-death experiences, how much of anything is really what we think it is?

Fortunately, Murder Genes doesn’t spend a lot of time asking these questions (fortunate since these questions are not new or original in and of themselves). Instead, it takes us to near-future world in a slightly alternative history in which one particular interpretation of such questions — that the capacity, or rather the inevitable compulsion — to murder has a genetic basis and thus can be screened, isolated... and eliminated, along with the people who carry it.

In telling the story, and telling it as a proper thriller, it asks not just would one do to survive — and some of its answers are not for the squeamish — but what would one do to win?

That’s a compelling backdrop. Into the foreground, Aizen drops a father and son, both suspected of carrying the code and now isolated and fighting for their lives because of it.

Anyone reading this book may understandably — but incorrectly — mistake Aizen to be one sick, twisted bastard. I’ve met him, spent time with him, and he is neither. What he is, is a writer capable of taking appalling things that make his own skin crawl and exploring their whorls and depths with cold and curious eyes. He doesn’t turn away from the shocking and disgusting, and any reader who has the stomach for it won’t want to turn away either.

There were times while reading it that I did turn away for a day or so, only to be dragged back in by the personal crises facing a father and a son — and, by extension, all of society. And I was rewarded by an end that made me thump a fist on my desk and pronounce, “Damn right!” in vindication.

Incidentally, Aizen has a blog dedicated to the key idea behind the story that serves as either a precursor or a supplement to the novel. It’s an interesting look at how the idea is already being addressed, not in an alternate history, near-future setting, but right now in this world.

Consider it a primer. Whether as a reader and an individual you’re comfortable exploring these ideas now, we’re all about to find ourselves confronting them head-on whether we like it or not. Murder Genes, like much of the best science fiction, is therefore a cautionary tale for today.

It’s also one heck of a ride.
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