Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Unchanged by Jessica Brody

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:"

Unchanged is the final book in the Unremembered trilogy. At the end of Unforgotten, Sera is desperate to locate Dr. Maxxer and the antidote for the transessor gene which kills normal humans like Zen, the boy she's fallen in love with. Zen is at the home of Cody Carlson, now a scientist, and is dying as a result of the transessor gene. Sera and Kaelen manage to find Maxxer who has hidden in a submarine deep in the ocean. Maxxer explains to Sera the evil history behind the transessor gene and how she and Kaelen were designed to be promotional material "for a series of genetic modifications that were to be sold over the counter at virtually any store in the world."  But unlike the white fever vaccine, this product will have nanotechnology that will give Diotech the ability to control the entire human race. This is the reason Dr. Alixter is so determined to find Sera..

Maxxer asks Sera to help her bring down Diotech but Sera feels she's been manipulated and refuses.  Sera transesses to Kaelen and tells him what she has learned. Puzzled as to why Maxxer is still alive, since she obviously has the gene, they return to Maxxer and learn from her memories that there were three vials of antidote, one of which Dr. Maxxer used on herself, to neutralize the transessor gene but trapping herself forever in 2032. Kaelen tells Sera that he knows Dr. Rio is still alive in a guarded room at the compound's medical facility. Sera wants Kaelen to take her to the facility to try to access Rio's mind so they can locate the other two gene Repressor doses. They cut out their tracking devices giving them approximately one hour to search before they can be tracked again. They transess to the medical facility and after accessing Rio's memories Sera determines where the two doses are hidden. She finds the two doses hidden in a book, The Giving Tree in Rio's bookcase. However, the sickly Dr. Jan Alixter is waiting for them and he tells Sera that Kaelen has accomplished his mission of bringing Sera back to him along with the antidotes. Kaelen reverts back to being under the control of Alixter and gives him the vials sending Sera. Alixter reveals to Sera that Zen is Dr. Maxxer's son and that he created Kaelen to be her Adam, her "scientifically perfected match" - her soul mate. Sera is horrified and so is Kaelen, just enough that Sera manages to retrieve the vials and destroys the locket meaning she will never be able to transess again. In exchange she asks that Kaelen be allowed to transess to Zen in 2032 and administer the second dose to save his life. Alixter refuses but unknown to him Kaelen tricks the doctor by creating a distraction and transessing to Cody and Zen and giving the antidote to Zen. Kaelen shows Sera through their special connection that in fact in a few seconds he was able to transess to Zen and save him. Knowing Zen is cured and safe, Sera allows herself to be taken prisoner again by Dr. Alixter.

Unchanged picks up this story where Sera is once again a prisoner of Dr. Alixter at the Diotech Compound in the Las Vegas desert. Alixter orders that Sera be given a new treatment where she keeps her memories but these memories, when triggered cause her to feel tremendous guilt. A year later finds Sera convinced that Diotech is were she belongs and that her past with Lyzender was filled with lies. "I am strong now. A fully functioning member of the Objective. A soldier....That stupid girl is gone. I am the better version."

Out on a walk through the Diotech compound one day, she visits the cottage where she lived with Dr. Havin Rio, her creator and lead scientist of the Genesis Project. Dr. Rio brought her to life from an artificial womb on June 27, 2114 and she considered him her father. Sera's memories in the ramshackle cottage, now abandoned, overwhelm her."I can smell the scent of my own betrayal. My weakness is steeped in these walls. It makes me gag, but I force myself to breathe it in, allow it to settle in my lungs. The shame trickles through my body like a cold insect." Sera believes that focusing on her guilt will make her stay strong and remain loyal to the Objective.

The Diotech compound is divided into sectors, Residential, Agricultural, Medical. Director Raze is head of security, tasked with preventing breaches of security and guarding Diotech's secrets. If he fails, the Memory Coders led by Sevan Sidler specialize in removing memories of people who have broken either deliberately or otherwise, Diotech's security. Every so often Dr. Alixter (A) requests a random memory scan on Sera. Kaelen and Sera live in the Owner's Estate with Dr. A and his staff.

Kaelen, Sera's "Print Mate" also lives in the Diotech compound. Genetically engineered to be her match, Kaelen who was born December 19, 2115, is stronger and faster than Sera. While Sera and Kaelen are cavorting around the compound, they meet Rio who Dr. A has completely destroyed. Considered a traitor by Dr. A,  Dr. Rio's brain destroyed and replaced with "an artificial brain cobbled together with nanoprocessors and synthetic material." Dr. A has told Sera that they "have to punish our enemies...Otherwise, how will we stop more people from betraying us?" Rio had set Sera free and gave her the transession gene that allowed her to time travel and escape Diotech.

From inside the Diotech compound Sera learns of the opposition by Pastor Peder to Diotech's research. This makes Sera nervous because tomorrow she and Kaelen will be leaving on a publicity tour to market Diotech's genetic enhancements. At dinner that night, Dane who is head of publicity, shows Sera, Kaelen and Dr. A the final edit of the new Feed ad which hypes the ExGen Collection. Sera and Kaelen are ExGens, genetically perfect human beings but people will not be able to become like them. Instead they "will only be able to purchase a handful of self-administered genetic modifications that will each enhance one specific attribute. Like eye color, skin tone, muscle capacity, hair sheen, brain function, body shape." The ad will run after the Unveiling, which is when Sera and Kaelen will be presented to the public. Their role is to "show the world how Diotech products can improve their lives."  The Unveiling will take place on May 8, 2117 on world famous Feed journalist, Mosima Chan's show.After that will follow a twenty-eight city tour, the thought of which makes Sera terrified.

Later on when Sera and Kaelen are out on the grounds of the compound they witness a young woman who willing walks into a fire and is burned alive. Afterwards, this memory is erased from Sera by Sevan Sidler leaving her aware that she has had something significant erased and wondering  if Kaelen had his memories erased as well. The next morning before they leave for the Unveiling, Sera feels compelled to return to Rio's cottage and to the bench where she and Zen once buried items to show that Sera still remembered him. After digging a foot into the dirt she finds a cube drive, like the one Lyzender stored Sera's stolen memories on when they escaped. As she races back to the Residential sector, Sera encounters the drooling, mindless Rio who calls her Sariana and warns her to leave. Sera has no idea who Sariana is nor what is on the cube drive, which she hides in her shoe.

Sera can't risk finding out what is on the cube drive because everything she streams to the Lenses in her eyes is monitored. As she leaves her room to embark on the tour, Sera notices the plaque in the hallway that lists the history of the Genesis Project- all the failures before her creation Sequence: E/Recombination: A - June 27, 2114 or SERA for short. Before they board the capsule that will take them via the hyperloop to Los Angeles, both Sera and Kaelen are injected with a genetic disguise so no one will recognize them prior to the Unveiling. When Sera arrives at the Los Angeles hyperloop station she sees Kaelen has become insanely enraged by the paparazzi and has viciously attacked numerous people, seriously injuring them. Sera manages to calm Kaelen down but is shocked by his murderous rage.  Later on during dinner Sera learns that Kaelen killed two paparazzi and that the four who survived had their memories wiped.  She also learns that Alixter is very concerned  about someone named Jenza Paddok who is no longer able to be tracked by Diotech. Since their network is not up yet at the hotel, this provides Sera with the chance to access the cube drive. It contains a message from Zen seven months after she left him, Sept 23, 2032. Zen knows that she has been taken again by Diotech because she has not returned to his time. He encourages her to remember him and to stay strong and tells her that he will find a way back to her.

Unable to sleep, Sera overhears a conversation between Alixter an unknown person whom he tells "the girl just took a little bit longer than expected to adjust to the Memory Reassociation procedure..." and that Rylan Maxxer is no longer a problem. Sera doesn't know what Alixter is referring to but these statements remain in her memory.

The interview with Mosima Chan goes according to plan; Dr. A is amazingly charming and composed. Sera notes that his hatred of religion seems to have disappeared as he tells Chan that Diotech is "trying to work in conjunction with God" and he compares Seran and Kaelen to Eve and Adam. These lies cause Sera to question whether she should lie too. Sera and Kaelen dazzle Mosima with their personalities and beautiful physique. But during questions, Sera is completely unnerved by a question asked by someone with the handle SZ1609.. S + Z = 1609 was Sera and Lyzender's secret code. Could Lyzender really be out there?

That night after the interview, Sera's search for information online turns up some interesting results. First she sees in video footage of Dr.'s Alixter and Rio, a young girl with honey-coloured hair and honey skin. But then in a video of Jenza Paddok taken two years ago, Sera sees Lyzender. She also notices that Paddok has an unusual nanotat with a red crescent moon on the palm of her hand.

As the tour progresses, the protests become larger and angrier. In Atlanta, Sera learns from Dane that Dr. Rio had a young daughter, Sariana who died when she was eight years old after falling out of a tree.  She also has a scan done by Sevan who suddenly appears at their hotel. After the scan Sevan tells her that nothing unusual showed up, leaving Sera puzzled. Even more interesting is the nanotat, which is identical to Paddok's, on Sevan's palm

The next morning in Miami Sera never makes it to the Feed station. Instead a protest that turns violent sees her caught outside the station and kidnapped by the protesters. It is the beginning of a series of events that will change the fate of Sera and Lyzender forever.


Unchanged is a thrilling conclusion to the well written Unremembered trilogy. It is a story about technology and genetic manipulation run amok. Its central theme is technology used not to serve mankind, but to manipulate him. Unchanged demonstrates how new technology, without the proper oversight, can be manipulated by large corporations who own the patents to these new discoveries. A perfect example today is that of Monsanto which uses genetic alteration of seeds to create insect resistant crops, but which has moved to manipulate and litigate farmers into using only their genetically engineered products. Genetically modified crops or GMO's are largely untested and their effect on humans, animals and the environment is mostly unknown. While North America is largely accepting of GMO's, Europe remains resistant to their use.

In Unchanged Sera summarizes what we know: that Dr. Maxxer discovered a way to create time travel through genetic manipulation, what she termed a transession gene, DZ227. Fearing that this technology would be used for evil, she fled into the past. However, in the past she stumbled upon a secret organization, the Providence, that had been in existence for generations and that sought to control people. They invested in Diotech in an attempt to achieve that control, through the Genesis project. This research project saw two genetically altered humans created who were to be used as tools to promote genetic enhancements to the general population. However, what people did not know is that these enhancements piggybacked nanotechnology that could be used by the Providence to control people. From the beginning of the Unveiling when Sera and Kaelen are revealed publicly, Sera quickly recognizes that Diotech is lying to consumers by implying that normal humans (called Normates in the novel) can become ExGens (like Sera and Kaelen). But in fact, they will only be able to enhance one physical attribute, not their entire body. The ad is deliberately misleading but when Sera questions Dane he brushes her off by telling her that advertisers never give people exactly what they want. It is only through the events that follow that Sera comes to realize the truth of what Dr. Maxxer told her, of what Zen has told her and of what Sevan has restored in her memories. Diotech is being controlled by the Providence who intend enact this plan to control the entire human race. To try to stop the Providence, Sera decides she must go public with all the information she has, knowing that once the veil of secrecy is lifted, Diotech will be unable to sell the genetic enhancements.

Although the story in Unchanged is fiction, the technology described may not so far fetched. Scientists are diligently working on developing nanotechnology that could be used to administer drugs to patients via very small nanobots. Gene therapy is actively being researched today for a wide variety of medical conditions.While these discoveries can bring healing to many, they can also be abused.

These are the social implications of genetic modification but as the novel demonstrates there are also consequences for the individuals too. Sera spends most of the three novels knowing that she was created in an artificial womb from genetic material. But she doesn't seem to question where that genetic material came from or the identity of her mother and father. As many adults who are the product of in-vitro fertilization can attest, knowing one's biological heredity is important - it gives us a sense of identity and a link to the past. Eventually Sera, prompted by the dying Rio, learns who she really is. For most readers, Sera's identity will not come as a complete surprise as Brody does offer some hints through the novel.

Another consequence of the genetic manipulation undertaken in this story is the loss of the ability to choose certain things in one's life, like one's life work or who to love. This is especially seen in Kaelen who was engineered by Dr. A to be Sera's "print mate" - her perfect mate. This takes away Kaelen's choice to choose who to love because he is biologically engineered to love Sera and no one else. Whenever he tells Sera how beautiful she is or how he loves her she reminds him that he has to say these things because "It's in your DNA." This also affects Sera, who feels overwhelmingly drawn to Kaelen, at times against her will.

A dominant theme throughout the novel is the conflict that rages within Sera. This conflict is due to the procedure done on her to associate certain memories with specific emotions. Every time Sera recalls a memory of Lyzender she experiences "stabbing guilt, the despairing anguish, the fervent desire to crush my head between my hands until it bursts." She often refers to these emotions as "the sickness".  After she has been kidnapped, Sevan tries to explain to Sera what was done to her and that these feelings are the result of the Memory Reassociation procedure. "The idea behind it is that your brain can be programmed to associate a certain memory with any emotion we choose. It twists your recollection of events...We associate the desired emotion, your brain distorts the memory to make it fit. Do you want someone to feel guilty about a love that changed her life forever?...Done." But Sera refuses to believe Sevan. Sevan explains that in order for Alixter to make Sera feel loyal to Diotech he had to make her feel betrayal whenever she thought about what happened with Lyzender. To prove he's telling her the truth he triggers her memory of the woman walking into the fire.

All of this leads Sera to struggle with remaining loyal to Alixter and Diotech or believing what Sevan and Lyzender, Nico and Jenza Paddok tell her. She tells herself, "I can't believe everything. I have to choose. And I choose the Objective." It is a choice that will have devastating repercussions for Jenza Paddok and for Sera.

The novel does leave some questions unanswered: we never learn who the Providence is other than them being a secret society, we never know why Kaelen is subject to uncontrollable rages. But we do learn what happened to many characters from the second book including Dr. Rylan Maxxer, Cody Carlson, his son Reese and his grandson Nico, Dr. Havin Rio, and Lyzender.

Overall, Unchanged is a very good science fiction novel which fans of this genre will truly enjoy. Unchanged will challenge readers to think about genetic manipulation, nanotechnology and the implications of these technologies for society and individuals. Readers will be surprised at the unexpected twist at the end of the novel, which gives them what they want - sort of.
The Unremembered trilogy is remarkably well done and highly recommended.

Book Details:
Unchanged by Jessica Brody
New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers    2015
417 pp.

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