Lynda Williams, The Lorel Experiment: the story of Sevolite origins. 2005. Fandom Press. Pp 80. ISBN 1590920619. CAN$ 13.99

Reviewed by Simon Mahony

This engaging novella is one of a series that provides the historical background to the goings on in the Okal Rel Universe (set in our own future)—the original creation of Lynda Williams but now a part of the collaborative Shared Universe Project. Set in a time we would recognise this tale traces the origins of the bio-engineered Sevolite race—invaluable as pilots in a later age of space travel and who come to dominate a post-apocalypse Earth.

In a world where the hopes and dreams of a united humanity have been dashed by the collapse of the space colonisation programme, Dr Lorel and his wife, after moving their company Self Evolved Limited (the origin of the acronym Se-vol-ite) from New York, with its prohibitive laws on genetic research to the relative safety of France, give fresh hope. Hope to parents that they might be selected to have a 'self-evolved' child—a gift to the world. The Lorel Experiment offered enhancement of the child such that Lorels would be "Healthier, wiser, more intelligent" (16) with concern for their fellow man—an advanced specimen rather than simply the result of "child-sculpting" practiced by their competitors with their "patented gene sequences" (15).

The story is told through two generations of Lorels: Amanda ("worthy of love") an early or first generation Lorel, and her struggle to be 'normal'; her daughter Sandrine ("defender of mankind"), conceived with Peter, a 'patent-child'—a sensitively bioengineered improvement on the human genome. In the closing pages we meet Sandrine's hope for the future in her own children, Cyril ("lordly") and Amanda (named in memory of her grandmother's struggles). The author shows skill and sensitivity in developing the main characters, allowing the reader to recognise and identify feelings and concerns.

Where does the future of Humankind lie: natural selection, bio-engineering or a combination of both—with always the unexpected thrown in for good measure? In this well written and paced novella Williams has resisted the temptation to give her attested fans a simple description of events explaining how things have come to be and instead raises interesting and relevant issues—ones that deeply affect and touch many of us today. Gene therapy, stem cell and embryonic research are emotive issues but ones that need to be addressed head-on rather than avoided with political debate.

Deeply felt and dark feelings of prejudice are raised and questioned as are those of truth and openness. All children growing up strive to be 'normal', not wanting to be singled out as different and marginalised by an unthinking society. Prejudice against Lorels is fuelled by unconsidered actions by 'patents' where enhanced attributes were not necessarily moderated with added intelligence. There is talk of the development of a 'racially sensitive bio-weapon' (34) and to plagues coming from Asia and the East. The United Nations passes the UN 'International Declaration on the Sanctity of Man' (35) prohibiting future tampering with humankind except to prevent known genetic diseases. All this turns full circle and 'enhanced' humans eventually attract sympathy as a minority group; so they do with this reader until certain questionable plans for mankind are ultimately revealed.

Damien whose presence is felt throughout the book—the only Lorel etymon the author omits (from the Greek, 'to tame' but forever associated through Hollywood with the ambivalent antichrist or messiah)—creates a new slave species of short-lived flesh and blood robots that mimic humans to meet the need for space pilots and with commercial spin-offs for specific tasks. The sevolites start off as servants not masters—a new species created while human genome remains sacrosanct; a manufactured slave/servant class; "a crop" (51) with built in obsolescence. The readers' sympathy turns from Damien and his blind fascism but stays with Sandrine and her more moderate agenda based around her daughter, conceived naturally while he was perfecting the DNA cocktail for his male (able to spread genes more widely) version of Homo Superior and worthy successor—his heir to the development off-world, unfettered by restrictions, that would return sevolites as masters.

But do Damien's plans take into account the element of chance: to what extent will the engineered son be influenced by his 'natural' older sister? What is the ultimate role of these new superior humans? What gifts would be needed in superior humans? The dream of perfecting Homo Superior is not a new one but one that advances in technology in our own time suggest might become a possibility—but which path is the correct one to reach that end? Readers of the Okal Rel series may know how the sevolites fare in the times ahead but will I am sure still be provoked by this novella. Prejudice, here as always, grows from fear and a lack of understanding.

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