The­ory of Bas­tards

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - MON­ICA CARTER

Au­drey Schul­man Europa Edi­tions (APRIL) Soft­cover $18 (416pp) 978-1-60945-437-1

Au­drey Schul­man’s en­gross­ing novel is a com­bi­na­tion of dystopian fic­tion, sci­ence fic­tion, and a love story, unit­ing bono­bos and sur­vival in the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture.

Dr. Francine Burk, a re­cent Macarthur win­ner, has de­cided to share her award with The Foun­da­tion, which houses orang­utans, chimps, and bono­bos for an­i­mal re­search. Burk de­cides to study the mat­ing rit­u­als of the bono­bos, among whom there is al­most no vi­o­lence. She chooses a re­searcher, David Stotts, to help her with her study.

En­dometrio­sis also takes the stage through Burk, who has suf­fered a se­vere case for years at the novel’s start. She ar­rives in a wheel­chair, re­cov­er­ing from surgery. In ad­di­tion to in­tro­duc­ing her to the bono­bos, Stotts helps her re­ha­bil­i­tate.

The nar­ra­tive starts at a slow pace. Burk is at her worst, phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally, but her char­ac­ter soft­ens as she be­comes fully func­tional and ex­ter­nal forces be­gin to threaten her re­search and her life.

Schul­man skill­fully en­gages the reader in the world of the bono­bos, the grow­ing af­fec­tion be­tween Burk and Stotts, and ex­am­i­na­tions of how na­ture mer­ci­lessly tests hu­man wills.

Fu­tur­is­tic el­e­ments—such as “body­ware” that makes con­tact lenses into com­puter screens—weave in. Ten­sion in­creases when dust storms take ev­ery­thing off grid, forc­ing pop­u­la­tions to adapt to a world with­out tech­nol­ogy. A nat­u­ral dis­as­ter ren­ders the re­search fa­cil­ity too dan­ger­ous to sur­vive in; Burk, Stotts, and the bono­bos ven­ture out into the coun­try­side to be­gin again.

The­ory of Bas­tards is full of orig­i­nal and in­ter­est­ing ideas. It is a rare find within to­day’s read­ing land­scape. Schul­man’s text is end­lessly en­ter­tain­ing, even while it im­parts sci­en­tific in­for­ma­tion. Sin­gu­lar, in­ven­tive, and provoca­tive, The­ory of Bas­tards war­rants at­ten­tion.

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