Cover image of "Spliced," a YA novel about biological innovation

You’ll notice early on that Spliced was written for young adults. Teenage protagonist? Check. Lack of profanity? Check. No sex scenes? Check. But in other respects the novel meets all the other requirements of adult science fiction. The near-future world it portrays represents the logical outcome of trends fully in evidence today. The story is suspenseful and full of surprises. It centers on biological innovation which is just barely conceivable given the current state of the art in science. But it also displays one of the flaws inherent in much YA literature. Its teenage heroine is endowed with skills and insights she is unlikely to have. Yet it all works reasonably well. You should find it possible to suspend disbelief as the story rushes to a powerful conclusion.

Teenagers have found something cooler than piercings and tattoos

Spliced is the first book in a trilogy about the social impact of chimera technology when widely adopted by young people. In this near-future world, genetic engineering has made it possible for humans to undergo chimera therapy that will modify their biology to express animal characteristics. This is biological innovation run wild. Some, with bird DNA embedded in their genome, now grow feathers. Their faces resemble those of birds. Others express as dogs, lions, tigers, or other species. “Chimeras had been a thing for at least fifteen years, after the bio-hackers started mixing with the body-mods to see what would happen.” The practice has grown so widespread that a popular backlash is growing. And legislation is under consideration to reclassify chimeras as nonpersons and thus outside the law.

Spliced (Spliced #1 of 3) by Jon McGoran (2017) 370 pages ★★★★☆

Artist's image of a chimera, a mythological creature that is the model for the biological innovation in this novel
Artist’s rendering of a chimera from classical mythology. In this novel, however, no chimera has three heads, just one altered to express some of the characteristics of a particular animal species. Image: Museo del Prado

Jimi Corcoran

Jimi Corcoran is a bright and athletic sixteen-year-old who lives with her seventeen-year-old brother, Kevin, a basketball star, and their mother. It’s sometime late in the twenty-first century or early in the twenty-second. Climate change and a series of deadly flu epidemics have forever altered American society. Most of the survivors live in the major cities, which are still able to maintain electrical and water services. The suburbs, known as “zurbs,” are largely deserted. Some small towns continue to operate with their own solar and wind generating facilities. But Jimi and her family are reasonably secure in their home in northwest Philadelphia. She’s a star student and set upon attending Temple University after she graduates, which is now almost two years off.

Del Grainger

As a young child, Jimi had hung out with three friends. Leo Byron has long since moved across town with his parents. Nina Tanaka was from a well-to-do family and had gravitated to a different crowd in high school. But Del Grainger, who lived next door, remained her best friend. The only problem is, Del is wild and frequently gets into trouble. His mother had committed suicide a few years ago, and his father, Stan, had gone off the deep end. He’d always been a mean man. But his wife’s suicide turned him into a monster, who routinely beat Del. To make matters worse, he’s a cop. The boy often turns up bruised and bloody on her doorstep at night.

A fateful detour into the zurbs

The action starts in earnest one morning when Jimi and Del have missed the bus—his fault, of course—and they choose a shortcut to walk to school. The detour carries them into the violence-prone zurbs, where they encounter an old abandoned house where a number of chimeras live. When the police show up to arrest the chimeras, Del goes crazy and attempts to murder one of the officers. Jimi saves the man’s life. Thus begin their adventures, his on a rebellious path to become a chimera, hers to rescue him when he disappears. The dangerous routes they take through this troubled land involve them in a high-stakes battle between the chimeras and a society that has grown intolerant and vicious toward them. And in the process they tangle with “this bazillionaire named Howard Wells” who funds and leads Humans for Humanity, or H4H, which spearheads the effort to criminalize chimeras.

“Human” vs. “person”

The legal conceit on which the action in this novel revolves is the distinction between two seemingly identical words. “Human was a biological and social concept. Legally it had no meaning. But legally, a person was someone with rights and protections, compared to a non-person, which has all the rights of a cinder block or an apple.” Remember, under more than a century of rulings by the United States Supreme Court, a corporation is a person. That’s the basis of the Court’s notorious 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

About the author

Image of Jon McGoran, author of this YA novel about biological innovation

In addition to the three YA novels in his Spliced trilogy, Jon McGoran has written three ecological adult thrillers as well as The Dead Ring, based on the hit TV show, The Blacklist. Writing as D. H. Dublin, he is also the author of three forensic thrillers. McGoran is a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, a group of published authors dedicated to supporting writers, readers, and the people who bring them together. When not writing novels and short fiction or cohosting The Liars Club Oddcast, a podcast about writing and creativity, he works as a freelance writer, developmental editor, and writing coach.

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