Written by Sarena Straus
Published by Winding Road Stories
October 21, 2022
Paperback, 280 pages
Have you ever had one of those days where you wish you could just push a button and change how someone behaves?
In a world where people have access to technological enhancements and genetic manipulation to erase bad habits and change certain aspects of your personality, society has become stratified into a caste system of “haves” and “have nots” in a New York that has suffered a post-apocalyptic disaster. It’s here, in 2126, where college co-ed Leandra finds herself trying to find her place. Unmodified, unsatisfied, she and her friends go down to the rally against the ReInception protocols, and that’s where her life takes a distinct turn.
It’s a story of young people getting in over their heads, and in typical YA fashion, there’s a budding romance motivating some decisions. There’s the good boyfriend, the bad boy who knows more than he’s telling, and caught up in the middle is a young girl with ideals but not too much life experience. Leandra finds herself having to grow up quickly when she finds herself pulled into a web of intrigue and suspicion.
What I like about Leandra is that she’s not perfect. She questions the circumstances, but she also questions her motivations for allowing herself to get caught up in them. Is she having a personal awakening? A realization that the system is broken and there’s oppression to be fought? Or is she just caught up in the heat of the moment, trying to impress her friends?
And when circumstances get so big that they’re out of Leandra’s control, the story moves along quickly enough that there’s no lag, but not so quick that details get missed. The use of news headlines at the beginning of the chapters serve as breadcrumbs to another aspect of the story, one that Leandra discovers organically, and it doesn’t feel forced, even though it’s one of those “well, of course” moments that could come off as contrived if handled badly.
Those headlines also speak to the layers built within the story. There’s the top-level straightforward pursuit story following the events at the rally, but there’s also the carefully crafted artifice that’s been built around the Proles, the Citizens, the Unis, and the Wards occupying the different levels of what’s left of the city. Even the characters that seem to be straightforward “types” turn out to have a few unexpected depths to plumb.
Stewing in the background, of course, is the concept of ReInception, this idea that as a society we’ve arrived at the point where we use genetic engineering and technology to modify behavior, sometimes against a person’s will. Got a bad habit? Code it out. Terrible personality? Reprogram it. Need to learn a particular skill? Just download it into the chip in your head. And all the while, the technology connects you to everyone else and tracks everyone everywhere. It’s the natural progression of both social media and the surveillance state implanted into your very person. And it’s chilling to think of just how close to this we actually may be in the next few years.
ReInception has echoes of 1984 in its DNA, with a budding relationship growing out of a society where everyone should stay in their respective places within the stratified system. Sarena Straus’ background as a lawyer peeks through from time to time, with certain hints at a society that’s become a little too enamored with it’s “perfect” system of rules and behaviors. Just how easy is it to do away with due process? How simple is it to force someone into reprogramming? Just how far can a regimented society push until the people push back?
Of course, those questions can be asked now. How much free will do you have? How much does society force you into suppressing that free will to fit into the world around you? How much are you willing to tolerate? Might not be what Straus intends, but it’s a natural progression of thought because of the questions that Leandra is forced to confront.
Which has me wondering what questions will crop up in the sequel…