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by Anne Harris
In the near future of Anne Harris's Accidental Creatures, America's manufacturing industry depends on organic polymers that are grown in vats of highly toxic liquid and harvested by divers in protective suits. The foremost producer of biopolymers is GeneSys, a corporation that took over Detroit after the collapse of the automotive industry. Vat-diving is a dirty, smelly, dangerous job that gradually turns your chromosomes to goo; the children of vat-divers are more likely than not to be somehow mutated.
Helix is a mutant who has spent most of her sheltered life in the apartment of her foster father, a research scientist who works for GeneSys. She runs away from home one day, for no apparent reason except that it would be a very short book otherwise, and winds up in Vattown. Helix finds herself irresistibly, inexplicably drawn to the vats, despite the vat-divers' hostility.
Back at GeneSys, everybody seems to have plans for Helix. A shadowy figure wants her in the vats; a corporate goon wants her dead; her father isn't sure what he wants, but he knows things are spinning drastically out of control. Matters quickly escalate to violence, and the plot gets a bit convoluted when the various factions are playing musical prisoners in the GeneSys building.
Accidental Creatures is highly reminiscent of Nicolas Griffith's Slow River, but it centers much more strongly on biotechnology and the socioeconomic underclass it creates. It's full of cyberpunk elements: an evil megacorporation, designer drugs, and a disenfranchised subculture whose members live fast, die young, and leave a hideous corpse. The story is weakened by occasional forays into mysticism, but otherwise it's interesting, if seedy, science fiction.
-- Christina Schulman.
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