The Sentient, Nadia Afifi (Flame Tree Press 978-1-787-58432-7, $ 14.95, 304pp, tp) September 2020.
Nadia Afifi’s first novel The Sentient is the kind of sci-fi tale that comfortably inhabits the realm of plausibility. There is some great technology on display here, including ways to deal with trauma that would be very helpful today, but human suffering, stress, death, and the dark side of religious fanaticism are at the heart of the novel, showing that boring human trait of moving forward in terms of what we can do while staying behind on the things that matter most.
Amira Valdez is a young neuroscientist who dreams of bringing her talents to space. She is an exceptional student with a bright future, but she still struggles to deal with her past. Amira grew up in a strange religious complex known as the New Covenant Children where physical and emotional abuse has been normalized, and the life she built after escaping is not completely free from trauma. and bad memories of his years in the compound. When, instead of getting the mission she wanted, Amira gets a working mission on a controversial cloning project on Earth, she enters a new era of turmoil that threatens to destroy everything she has worked so hard for. . The project already has two deceased pregnant women on their record, and a third is not doing so well, so Amira must help uncover the psychological causes behind the patient’s struggles. She begins delving into the patient’s memories, but soon finds herself enveloped in a conspiracy to stop the creation of the first human clone and involved in a plethora of people who have secret agendas on both sides of the cloning battle.
The best thing about The Sentient is that it brings a hot topic – cloning – to the fore and imagines its implications beyond the technology, which we already have. Also, it shows a world in which technology allows people like Amira to look into the dreams and memories of others, but looking is not enough, and human memories, and the way our brains process, change and block. traumatic events, is always a problem because things get caught up or lost in the “shapeless fog of memory”.
In a sense, The Sentient is a classic sci-fi tale, but the religious elements and secret groups that try to make cloning happen or fight against it make this novel a psychological thriller. Amira must keep secrets from both sides, steal things and watch her, all while trying to help Rozene, her pregnant patient, and dealing with the fact that Rozene’s darkest, scariest and most important memories are, like those of Amira, related. at her own time in a religious complex which was a little worse than the one Amira spent her childhood in.
The technology in this novel never takes center stage except when it deals with dreams and memories, when Amira does her holomental readings. The rest of the time, transportation, robots, biomechanical alterations, and the presence of something like our internet that can stay in front of someone (literally in front of an eye) are things that enrich the story and make it feel like it’s gone. ‘be futuristic. , but a future that is almost here. Additionally, there is a sense of history here, a remembrance of how far the study of the human mind has come that also recognizes that there are many mysteries left. For example, Amira and her friend D’Arcy discuss the “nocebo” effect, which shows the unlimited power of the mind:
Back in Vienna in the 18th century, these medical students decided to play this farce on a teacher’s assistant they hated. They ambushed him after class, detained him and told him he was going to be beheaded. They pushed his head onto a block and blindfolded him. One of them wrung out a damp cloth so that a drop of water fell on his neck. He felt it, thinking it was the cold of a blade, and died. Right there, on the spot.
Amira is a strong and likeable character. Her years spent in the religious precinct, which left her with physical and psychological scars, made her feel vulnerable but also strong, a survivor. The way Afifi deals with religious fanaticism seems incredibly timely, as if it shows us that in the future, fanaticism will always be a problem not only because people will always love the power that religious control gives them, but also because that humans will always learn. use technological or chemical advancements to generate profit, retain power, control others, and sustain the status quo of anything that benefits their agendas.
The Sentient takes place in 2227, which is not too far into the future. The presence of problematic elements of our society in this advanced version of it works in two ways. First, they serve to frame a tense and gripping tale of the fight to bring the world’s first human clone. Second, they act as a warning to make sure we are making progress in all ways as we build the future.
Gabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, teacher, and book reviewer living in Austin TX. He is the author of Zero Saints and Coyote songs and the editor of On both sides. Her work has been nominated for the Bram Stoker and Locus Awards and won the Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel in 2019. Her short stories have appeared in a plethora of anthologies and her non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and CrimeLits. His work has been published in five languages, opted for film, and praised by authors as diverse as Roxane Gay, David Joy, Jerry Stahl and Meg Gardiner. His reviews appear regularly in places like NPR, Weekly editors, the Chronicle of San Francisco, Criminal element, Mystery Tribune, Flight. 1 Brooklyn, the Los Angeles Book Reviewand other print and online sites. He has been a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards twice and has judged the PANK Big Book Contest, the Splatterpunk Awards and the Newfound Prose Prize. He teaches creative writing in the online master’s program at Southern New Hampshire University. You can find him on Twitter at @Gabino_Iglesias.
This review and other similar articles in the May 2021 issue of Location.
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