Part I of Pandora’s Genes, which was a little over 100 pages long (25-30,000 words), introduced me to two of the main characters: Zach, the good man I had seen in my dream, and Evvy, a courageous fourteen-year-old girl whose parents have sold her to the Principal. All we (and I) know about the Principal at this point is that he is the ruler of the strange and dangerous country where Zach and Evvy live, and that Zach is his most trusted aide.
In this first section of the book, we see that plants and animals are for the most part mutated forms of animals we know today (the dangerous poison bats, for example, are mutations, as are the extremely bright and possibly empathic fox-cats); we learn that most women die if they give birth to female babies, resulting in an extreme scarcity of women; and we learn that these frightening conditions were caused by something that happened long ago called the Change.
Flashback: It is five years earlier, a year when oil spills were big news as they have become again today. I happened to read a piece in the Wall Street Journal about a natural bacterium that breaks down oil; some scientists were working to make it a more efficient oil-eater.
I grew up with science fiction, and one of my great interests is genetics, so I was intrigued by the possibilities. What would happen, I wondered, if the bacteria were made too efficient? What if they were to get out of control, creating a new “disease” that would attack machines that use oil? What, I wondered, if your car catches it?
As I embarked on Part II of Pandora’s Genes, I realized that the dangerous world in which Zach and Evvy found themselves was the very one I had imagined years earlier, the result of a scientific advance gone terribly awry.
Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my introduction to the Principal, and how all of the pieces began to fit into a coherent narrative.