As part of a blog tour hosted by Reading Addiction Blog Tours, I agreed to read and review Grond: The Raven High by Yuri Hamaganov. The book promises to be the first in a series, exploring a world in the not too distant future where Earth's resources have run dry, feelings about and towards androids are tenuous, and we must find alternate methods of providing for the most basic of human needs in order to survive.
The Situation: In the year 2080, Olga Voronov is born and almost immediately sold to The Corporation. Her birth parents made a deal in exchange for money to have their daughter taken from them, raised by an android, and trained to manufacture advanced nanomaterials that will be used in an attempt to save Earth's sharply declining ecosystem. As one of seven bioengineered post-humans - also known as The Changed - Olga's mind works differently from that of a normal human, and by six years old she can already run complicated programs and simulations that aid in her training. At ten years old she will be declared fully mature and can work to earn her own money. Forced to live in isolation, she must remain at the High House, out in space but close to Earth, with only her android nanny, Arina, and all of the advanced technology she could ever want.
The Problem: Even with Olga's help, and the help of the other Changed beings, the earth continues to die, and the people on it continue to suffer. There are now only two classes of people: the very rich and the very poor. While Olga may know that the earth is in trouble, as that is the reason she exists, the full details of the horror are often kept from her. She laments the loss of Earth's oceans, as she dreamt of one day being able to swim in them for real, instead of in a simulation. But human suffering is of little concern to her, as she sees beings like herself as the next logical step in human evolution. But not everyone shares her view, and there are even some with the resources to reach her who would prefer she did not exist, and that humanity would be made to suffer the consequences of the world they have created.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel that begins in the year 2086, and continues until Olga reaches the age of 12, at which point she has the appearance of a fully grown adult woman. Earth is in such terrible shape that a new class of human beings were bioengineered in order to save it. However, the process seems to be slow going, and while human life continues on the surface, many people suffer, and unemployment remains incredibly high. Those that are wealthy enough can choose to practically live in virtually reality, perpetually ignoring that chaos and destruction around them. And the continents and countries as we know them today are all but erased due to war and famine. When the book opens, Olga is only six years old, but she is already extremely intelligent and The Corporation trains her hard. In many ways she is like a normal kid, as she loves hot chocolate, dreams of swimming in oceans with dolphins, and often neglects her homework in favor of video games. But her intelligence sets her apart. It also helps to make her cold towards the people she was born to help, but smart enough to realize that even she may not be immune to the chaos that is taking place below.
My Verdict: It is always difficult to enjoy a book where the protagonist is not likeable. And if her enemies are not sympathetic either, then who does the reader root for? Unless the story is incredibly inventive and captivating, the result is either profound indifference or annoyance, or perhaps both. Once I realized that Olga was not much interested in the plight of the human race - something that is only a natural result of her upbringing, intelligence, training, and extreme isolation - I stopped being interested in Olga. The future that Hamaganov created is, however, inventive and interesting. Earth's history from the year 2030 through Olga's birth is full of wars and fighting, as well as the controversial invention of androids. Of course, any alternate history (or future) that deals with conflicts between countries where there is a clear winner and a clear loser is going to anger and annoy some while delighting and amusing others, and the one presented here is no exception.
Favorite Moment: When Olga begins to realize that her situation and status is not as secure as she once wanted to believe.
Favorite Character: Everyone in this dystopian future has their faults, and they are all hiding something from someone. I even hesitate to pick Arina, Olga's android nanny who is nurturing and patient, while also firm and resolute.
Recommended Reading: Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty presents another version of Earth's future, but this one introduces cloning and the many moral and ethical questions that can come from it.