Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Barcode Rebellion by Suzanne Weyn

The Bar Code Rebellion is the second book of the trilogy by Weyn which explores a futuristic society where an attempt has been made to control people by their DNA.
The novel opens with Kayla and Mfumbe Taylor have left the Adirondacks and are on their way to the barcode resistance march on the Capital, Washington, D.C. They are protesting the now mandatory barcode tattooing of everyone seventeen and older. Senator David Young plans to challenge President Loudon Waters over the constitutionality of the barcode which infringes on the personal freedom of US citizens. He also wants the President to admit that the barcode is being used to store "other unknown information about a person.

While waiting outside the White House for President Loudon to appear, Kayla and Mfumbe meet up with August Sanchez who is also a barcode resister and who was part of a fringe group attempting to contact aliens via their thoughts. The protest turns deadly however, when the jets and Global-1 forces attack the protestors and begin arresting them. Mfumbe is captured but Kayla is rescued by the long haul trucker, Katie, whom Kayla met in the first book. Katie is now going by the name of Dusa. Kayla learns that may of the barcode resisters were arrested and tattooed against their will. Dusa and her friends, Francis and Nate, believe that Gene Drake, Kayla's neighbour who was killed trying to destroy a barcode facility discovered that the tattoos contain more than just a person's genetic information.

Kayla, with the help of Dusa, manages to rescue Mfumbe who is badly injured. After leaving him at his parent's home, Kayla and Dusa head west. When they arrive in St. Louis, a chance encounter brings Kayla face to face with a girl named Kara, who looks identical to her. Kayla learns that in fact there are at least four others who look like her

Kayla and Dusa travel to the Great Basin Desert where they meet up with other resisters, called the Drakians, hiding out in the limestone caves.There the mystery about Kayla's origins begins to deepen. From the stolen personal files the resistance uses to make fake barcodes, Dusa has come across Kayla's grandmother's file. She learns that her grandmother had not only a son - Kayla's father, but another child named Kayla M1-6. And from a third girl named Kendra, who is also a Kayla look-alike, she learns that all of the Kayla's have the same barcode.Eventually Kayla discovers that her grandmother gave birth to sextuplet clones of which Kayla is one.

While in the desert Kayla meets a genius computer hacker, Jake who has designed a special kind of hovercraft which he calls a "swing-lo".Kayla and Jake decide that they need to contact Allyson, Kayla's friend and former Decode member who is now doing nanobot research at CalTech. They travel there to enlist Allyson's help in solving the mystery of Kayla and also the barcodes. What they learn is far more sinister than they could ever have imagined.

The Bar Code Rebellion is a short novel that might appeal to younger readers. As the second novel in the trilogy, The Bar Code Rebellion is entirely plot driven with little character development and a bit of romance. The idea behind the novels, that a multinational corporation uses nanotechnology to control the citizens of a country is an interesting idea but is poorly developed with large plot holes. For example, we learn that Kayla is actually one of six clones who were created from Kathryn Reed and implanted in Ashely Reed who was married to Kathryn's son, Joey. This means that Kayla is actually a clone of Joey's mother and her father is not her father, but her son. The clones were part of a transgenic experiment, with each clone getting a bit more bird DNA than the next. Joey and Ashley got the first clone, Kayla, who had the least amount of avian DNA. Yet when Kayla's "mother" Ashley is ranting against the barcode in the first book, she never mentions to Kayla or even hints that she is a clone - surely an important fact she would want her to know, given the dire situation that is developing. Another glaring inconsistency: GlobalHelix which created the six transgenic clones loses them - highly unlikely in a corporation which excels in controlling each and every citizen.

The writing is poor, with many coincidences that are just too convenient. As an example,  Amber who has run away from her crazy Aunt Emily wakes up one morning to find a maniacal clone of Kayla in her tent, in the middle of the desert. And she just accepts this? Mostly the plotline is predictable with everything easily and quickly resolved. It's a shame because the concept with its inherent themes of identity, privacy, control, and ethics of research and consent are important in our highly internet-based society.

I'll read the third book, since it will be a short read and I'm curious to see how Weyn can possibly write a third novel after all the ends were wrapped up in the second,  but I don't hold out much hope for this trilogy.

Book Details:
The Bar Code Rebellion by Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic       2006
265 pp.

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