Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Fox Inheritance by Mary Pearson

The Fox Inheritance is the second, long overdue sequel to the excellent The Adoration of Jenna Fox. In The Adoration of Jenna Fox we followed Jenna as she adjusted to her new life as essentially a type of cyborg with a human brain. Jenna, along with her best friends, Kara Manning and Locke Jenkins, had been in a horrific car accident. Her body had been destroyed but her human brain had been uploaded first to a special computer and then to a body made of Biogel and composed of many biotic parts. This was done by her father, Michael Fox, a research scientist. Jenna was better than human and capable of living very very long - several hundred years.

It is now 260 years since the accident that "killed" Jenna and her friends Locke and Kara. We discover that Locke and Kara's families had been told that they died. However, unknown to their families, their brains had also been uploaded into a special computer. Although Jenna thought she destroyed the computers containing her friends brains, in fact copies were made by Dr. Ash of Fox BioSytems when the project was abandoned. He also retrieved tissue specimens and DNA from Locke and Kara before their bodies died. This was done illegally and unknown to their families.

When Ash died under mysterious circumstances, the uploads and specimens were forgotten in a storage facility and came to be known as the Fox Inheritance. Those boxes changed hands over the course of several generations.

As the battery docks began to run out of power, the storage facility sold the boxes to Dr. Gatsboro, several centuries later.  Dr. Gatsboro restored their bodies with a special technology that allowed him to achieve a perfect likeness. He used their DNA to engineer their tissue in order to create their unique identity. Instead of the original Bio Gel, Locke and Kara have "an oxygenated gel filled with microscopic bio-chips" which "communicate and human cells do."

The Fox Inheritance opens exactly one year after Locke and Kara have been uploaded into their new bodies. Kara and Locke are living in Gatsboro's compound, being educated in the new world they now inhabit and also being groomed for display. Dr. Gatsboro plans to use them as floor models to sell his process to potential clients who want to extend their lifespan.  Locke and Kara were used as part of Gatsboro's reserach and were important because their minds had been in storage for 260 years. Potential clients wanted proof that their minds would be intact decades later, maybe longer.

Angry at what Dr. Gatsboro has planned for them and also at Jenna Fox for abandoning them for hundreds of years, Kara decides to runaway from Gatsboro's compound. Locke, seeing no other option, decides to run with her. Locke however, is concerned about Kara, who doesn't seem to be behaving normally. She is intensely angry and seems to have a cruel streak.
 "And I'll tell you what I can't believe, Locke! I can't believe someone was able to buy my mind and then put me on display like I'm a trained monkey! I can't believe he's allowed to keep me here against my will! I can't believe Jenna has been living the high life while we've been crammed into a box and forgotten for over two hundred years! I can't believe I'm never going to see my mother or --"

Locke and Kara are helped to escape by Dot Jefferson, a Carbot - essentially a robot that is embedded into a car. After a run-in with Gatsboro where they are almost captured, Lock is separated from Kara. Locke begins to wonder what is wrong with Kara. He doesn't remember her being like this. Perhaps her mind being alone for so long in the datasphere has damaged her in some way. When Kara and Locke get separated, it becomes a race to see who will find Jenna first. For Locke, it is about protecting Jenna. For Kara this is about revenge.

Locke learns that Jenna is living in California and so he begins his journey there while Dot and Meisha, who worked for Gatsboro try to lead the mad doctor away from  Locke and into Mexico.

From this point on, the novel details the escapades of these two 20th century teens caught in a futuristic world as they try to locate their friend Jenna. Along the way readers are treated to descriptions of American society 260 years into the future.

The United States experienced a second Civil War in 2112 which divided the country into two new countries, The Democratic States of America and the American United Republic. Citizens could choose which country they wanted to live in. "A few citizens would not conform to the new "pact" and refused to choose. They were labeled Non-pacts and excluded from all public services" including education. Eventually these citizens became very poor. Bots were created after the workforce was severely depleted due to starvation and disease arising from a catastrophic volcanic eruption in Yellowstone. And humans with less than ten percent body parts were labelled illegal.

When Locke finally meets Jenna, he finds a very different person than the one he knew 260 years ago. Jenna was married to a man named Ethan for seventy years. After his death Jenna had a daughter, Kayla, who is 100 percent her and Ethans, by a surrogate. Jenna has been living a quiet existence, although she tried to lobby for the rights of Bio Gel recipients. Her friend, Allys and 40 other Bio Gel recipients had the the new standard of 10 percent adopted.

Locke loves Jenna but she tells him it isn't the right for them. Jenna tells Locke that he needs to experience the world and they have both changed. Jenna has told him that if he's still interested, she will be waiting for him after he discovers who he now is what he wants in life.

Although this novel was not as interesting as the first book which really works well as a stand alone, it does generally succeed. Pearson accomplishes what she wanted to with The Fox Inheritance - that is to tell us what happened to Jenna over the course of several hundred years and fill us in on Locke and Kara (who we thought died in the first book). We learn about the future world Locke and Kara have been thrown into, and see the tremendous adjustment both Locke and Kara are called to make. They have new bodies and are living in time that is completely alien to them.

The character I liked the most was Dot Jefferson, who is a driver for Star Drivers and who is a Bot - a robot. She has no legs and no human shape below her waist because her functionality does not require this. Dot is a driver and is therefore wired directly into the vehicle she operates. Since Bots are robots in human form, they can be used by humans for many different jobs in society.

Dot agrees to help Kara and Locke because she wants to be like some of the other Bots who have stories to share about escapees. It soon becomes apparent that Dot has "desires". She is not just a robot. Dot like many bots seems to be something more than just a robot.
Training? Or is it programming? What's inside of Dot that is beyond her control? Everything? She's a Bot. I have to remember that. But there is still something different about her. Is that possible? Can a Bot be more than just circuits and programming? I think back to the hissing cashier at the diner -- a Bot too, but as different from Dot as I was from my brother. Where did their Bot paths diverge on the assembly line? Or was it somewhere after that?....
In this futuristic world, Bots seem to have the desire for more, to be human, to be whole, even to be accepted. This is in contrast to mankind, some of whom in the quest for immortality, are tending towards having a fabricated body. In this respect, The Fox Inheritance continues to explore the question of identity; "Who am I?" and "What is it that makes me, me?". Even Locke, the narrator, is trying to figure out who he is. Is he still Locke? His body is different, more muscular and he's much taller than he was when he had a human body.

Overall, The Fox Inheritance is a good novel to explore themes of identity, immortality and what it means to be human. One of the main problems I had with this novel was that because the first novel, The Adoration of Jenna Fox was written 3 years ago, I couldn't remember some of the finer details of the storyline. It appears the Pearson will be writing a third novel because Father Andre tells Locke that

Book Details:
The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson
New York: Henry Holt and Company 2011
294 pp.

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