Sequela by Cleland Smith is a strange book, creepy, thought-provoking and potent. It has a unique premise and makes an insightful and scathing comment on the power plays of the business world. In a nutshell, it’s about a scientist literally prostituting himself for big business.
The author creates a world where the city centre is separated from the rest of London. The city is the playpen for the ambitious, the power hungry and the wannabes who are willing to trade sexual favours for advancement. In this world, that is the norm rather than the exception, and wearing (showing) sexually transmitted viruses indicates that you have ambition. Scabs supposedly makes you desirable.
The plot had me guessing, not knowing where it would go next. It wandered a little early on, but strengthened when the viral terrorism began. Though the world is different, the behaviours and motivations of the people are the same as those we see around us every day. Power, money, religion, prestige, fame and jealousy are the motivators, but set in a world where sexually transmitted diseases are a fashion statement, these passions come across as more than decadent, they seem sick, as sick as the people who willingly infect themselves with viruses just to look cool.
On a personal level, I found the whole idea of the culture rather distasteful, but the very yukkiness of it gives the social comment a lot of power. As well as sex, power and work place politics, the book explores what happens when proving a point of religious dogma becomes more important than ethics and issues involved in funding scientific developments.
The characters are complex and generally well-drawn, and their relationships and dialogue realistic. Though not without its issues, in general, the author expresses her ideas in confident and sometimes insightful, prose. The real strength of this book is its concepts.
The ending makes a statement. Despite everything the Church has done to bring down the pervading culture of decadence, the seduction of money remains and even though who oppose it are not immune. The question is, how far are you willing to go to get what you want?