Sea Change by Nancy Kress

Sea Change by Nancy Kress
Sea Change by Nancy Kress (Italian edition)

The novel “Sea Change” by Nancy Kress was published for the first time in 2020.

Renata Black uses the alias Caroline Denton when she works for the Org, a underground organization that carries out genetic research to create plants better suited to the new climate situation of 2032. Members of the Org are violating the ban on genetic engineering and as a result, are considered terrorists by all American government agencies.

An unexpected event is always viewed with suspicion by Org members because there can never be too many precautions. Renata/Caroline knows only a few members of the Org precisely to limit the risks and yet it can happen that someone is discovered and arrested. Despite this, the Org tries to save humanity.

Nancy Kress tried many times to predict the social consequences of scientific and technological advances. She had already addressed the topic of genetic engineering in the acclaimed “Beggars in Spain“, in that case, exploring the consequences of possible applications to human beings. “Sea Change” is an exploration of the possible consequences of a ban on genetic engineering in a world where climate change is also affecting agriculture.

The novel is set in such a near future that the Catastrophe, as the series of deaths caused by an antidiarrhea drug created using GMO plants is called, occurs in 2022. Renata Black’s life is told through episodes spanning several decades between 2005 and 2032 mixing her personal story and global problems.

The novel’s narrative structure is useful among other things to understand the various sides of Renata Black’s personality with her strengths and weaknesses. She had a soap opera love story with an actor but she’s also an activist who works as a paralegal and after the ban on genetic engineering, she joins the Org to continue supporting the underground creation of GMO organisms to save humanity.

“Sea Changeā€ is really short by today’s standards, and various interesting themes have limited space. Readers who want everything explained certainly won’t appreciate it because Nancy Kress focuses on a few elements. In 2032, mass surveillance systems have become truly sophisticated, and Renata Black must resort to equally sophisticated subterfuge when she operates as Caroline Denton. A case she follows as a paralegal shows how many American laws are essentially made to screw Native Americans, creating many difficulties for them to get justice when one of them is the victim of even very serious crimes.

Ethical and moral issues connected to genetic engineering also have limited space. What is clear is that in a world where climate change is creating problems for agriculture, the fear that drove ordinary people to demand a ban on genetic engineering leads to self-harm.

Through the protagonist, Nancy Kress also clarifies very well the differences between the various uses of genetic engineering. What existed before the ban was the exploitation of GMOs by big corporations who are only interested in profit, and that’s what already happens today. The development of GMOs by researchers who try to end famine thanks to plants that are more suitable for new climatic conditions and don’t have the same need for pesticides to grow is very different.

On these themes, Blake Crouch’s “Upgrade” is more developed and at the same time more radical in its solutions. Nancy Kress offers a vision of the problem and activism that is closer to our everyday life by describing a very near future with people who are all in all normal. In some ways, the two novels complement each other.

The year 2032 depicted by Nancy Kress in “Sea Change” is really close and, apart from some technological progress, it seems to see the world we already live in where the climate situation is showing more and more negative consequences. Despite its limitations, it’s a novel that offers food for thought on the attitude of the mass of humans and on how the activism of a minority can still have important effects. For these reasons, I recommend reading it. It’s available on Amazon USA, UK, and Canada.

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