Travel Documents 46: The Breeding Tree

The Breeding Tree (Destiny by Design Book 1)

J. Andersen
Genre: far-future sf, biopunk, dystopian

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The Dust Cover Copy

When Katherine Dennard is selected to become a “Creation Specialist” in Sector 4, the opportunity sounds like a dream come true. But Kate soon discovers the darker side of her profession – the disposal of fetal organs and destruction of human life. It makes sense, really. In a society where disease and malformations don’t exist, human perfection demands that no genetic “mutants” be allowed to live. For Sector 4, “survival of the fittest” is not just a theory – it’s The Institute’s main mission.

When Kate discovers that The Institute is using her DNA to create new life, her work gets personal. In order to save her unviable son, she’ll have to trust Micah and his band of underground Natural Born Rebels. The problem is, if The Institute discovers her betrayal, the next body tossed in the trash could be hers.

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

Anderson does a solid bit of worldbuilding here. One of her most effective tools is allowing us to look at a complex world through the simple eyes of a young adult. Katherine’s view of the world allows us to be immersed in the status quo of a world where Natural Borns are becoming more and more rare. Children are created through The Institute, screened for perfection, and returned to the parents whose genetic material was used in the creation if they’re deemed to be parents worthy of rearing good citizens. Generation by generation, humanity is growing better.
Or so they say.
A stiflingly controlled world has been built around the inhabitants. Everything from food intake to emotional responses is weighed, measured, and advised by AI, by the Institute and by peers. The insidious thing Anderson underlines in this work is the fact that humans–for better and worse–can adapt to anything. For the generations raised under the hand of the Institute, this crushingly rigid and explicitly eugenic regime is simply the way life is. There’s nothing odd about it.
It takes someone outside the norm to make Katherine think in new ways. Luckily, she has been gifted with two such people: her great grandmother, and a strange new friend by the name of Micah. And she realizes that it may be time for the status quo to change.

The Crowd

Characterization

Katherine’s internal world is a rich soup of conflicts, loves, fears and hates. You’re given the strong sense that most of the other characters–those who haven’t forced their thinking into absolutely rigid lines as a method of living within a system that does not allow dissent–have something similar behind their own eyes. That’s not always easy in an ensemble cast, but Anderson has pulled it off. Each character has their own strengths, their own flaws and their own appeal.

The Lingo

Writing Style

The story does, unfortunately, suffer from what I term Black Beauty Syndrome: beating the reader over the head with the awful terrible thing that is happening, and the reasons they’re terrible. It’s not badly written by any means, but at times I felt that the conversations between characters were a thinly veiled delivery of a sermon. Personally I agree with the sermon’s message: there is value in all forms of humanity. Eugenics is a delusion that too often turns from a dream to a nightmare. But no matter how much I enjoy the sermon, when I know I’m being preached to, I generally have to call it.

The Moves

Plot

Aside from the little weakness in the style, this is a great page-turner of a story, with unexpected twists and a disturbingly plausible tendency for the Benevolent Overlords to hide more than you ever dreamed under their nice white coats. When the action really gets going, it’s steady, engaging and valuable to the plot; a triad you don’t often see.

Overall Rating

A dystopian ethical and social maze through which you and the character will run as fast as you can. While the waters aren’t as deep as I expected, I very much enjoyed diving in.