Twin-Bred by Karen A. Wyle

Twin BredElizabeth counted her stitches, then glanced up at Mara. Mara wasn’t looking at her tablet. Her eyes were closed, her lips moving slightly.

“Mara? … Mara!”

Mara jumped. She looked wary for a moment, then donned the innocent gaze of untroubled childhood. “Yes, Mommy? I was drawing.”

“Oh?”

Elizabeth looked Mara in the eye and waited. Mara visibly weighed her chances of outlasting her mother, and surrendered. She laid the tablet carefully on the table. “Well, I wasn’t drawing just at that moment. I was– well, I was–”

“You were pretending again. About Levi. Pretending to talk to him.”

Mara Cadell lost her twin before they were born, but despite her mother’s admonishments, she continues talking to him as she grows up, and she’s not quite convinced that Levi is a figment of her imagination. As an adult, she becomes a scientist, and her own twin experience gives her the idea to raise human and alien children together — from the very womb.

In many ways, Twin-Bred reminded me of China Mieville’s Embassytown. In both, humans have reached out into space, forged a home on a planet already inhabited by another sentient species, and struggled with their limited ability to communicate with said aliens. And in both, the proposed solution is a kind of bioengineering involving twins. However, while Mieville examines the concept of meaning in language and communication, Wyle is concerned with a much more fundamental concept of comprehension.

Twin-Bred starts with the conception of the twin project, and proceeds with great leaps and bounds through the following twenty or so years. This sparse style makes it a little harder to engage with the characters, but Mara, the main character and the driving force behind the project, is intriguing enough to pull the reader along with her. In the first few pages we learn that Mara lost her own twin brother, who became her childhood “imaginary friend,” and it’s this experience that shapes her to propose the project.

Every person and group in this novel has their own agenda, and I’m sure the author must be well-versed in the politics around large Government-funded projects, because the layers of complex scheming seem plausible even in the more far-fetched moments of the plot.

All in all, this was an enjoyable and original read, with a novel take on the difficulties of culture and communication which are bound to plague inter-species contact one day.

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