I read Special by Georgia Blain (Random House, 2016) knowing nothing about the author or her books. After reading I found out she was diagnosed with brain cancer last November.

“That hour, that ambiguous space between light and dark, between embracing what’s possible and falling into despair, is Blain’s uneasy new home.” –  The Sydney Morning Herald

I’m glad Georgia Blain found time to write Special during her uneasy years left. And I look forward to reading more of her books. The post apocalyptic world Fern Marlow inhabits is a future where we could be heading.

Corporations control everything, the poor are pretty much born into slavery to provide for the rich. Babies are genetically modified to possess the traits, looks and talents the parents choose (and pay for). A lucky few from the poorer classes get access through a genetic lottery and Fern Marlow is one of the resultant Lotto Girls.

“Genes switched on and genes switched off in a beautiful cosmic pattern designed to create Fern Marlow… how finely nuanced my design. I used to be fascinated by myself. Now, it is as though all the lights have been turned off, the switchboard a jangle of broken wires.”

She thought she was special until everything went wrong. Fern is stuck in a strange existence at ReCorp, so different to the privilege of Halston where she grew up. We don’t know how she lost everything and the clever reveal is teased out through her memories, and what she learns from her new friends and the family and friends she thought were gone forever.

One of her memories is of Halston’s gardener Marcus who befriended her and taught her how the world used to be.

“Marcus encouraged me to appreciate the beauty of the biological process by simply observing… I had once remarked on how lucky we were, that the possibility of genetic perfection through BioPerfect’s labs made it all so simple.”

Everything is manufactured in this world, nature is only observed as a quaint tradition.

“Farms producing fruit, vegetables, creamy milks and cheeses all sold as novelty items from the barnyard door.”

At Halston Fern learnt about history when people were divided into countries and nationalities and finds this “simplistic and impractical.” Her teacher points out it was an illusion,

“Corporations owned the nations and their leaders.”

When spec-fic mirrors reality, laughable, except not. And the worst fate possible:

“We had no data access.”

As Fern discovers more about the hidden truths of her world and its past, this future might be more like our present than it appears.

“All children are an experiment of sorts.”

Special by Georgia Blain

The cover design by Christabella Designs is perfection itself. The folded and torn paper signifies the past because paper isn’t used in Fern’s world. Sadly the library where I borrowed Special has no respect for art and stuck a barcode on top of the girl’s face when they could have put it slightly lower in the empty corner.

chapter headings

The fern on the chapter headings is beautiful. A collage of found objects, like Fern’s artworks. Another link to the past in Fern’s electronic world.

“Just words thrown into the Wastelands by someone from another time.”