Unstrung by Kendra C. Highley

I read Unstrung around the time we founded Strange Charm, back in 2014, but at the time I struggled to find enough other transhumanism books to make a full season. Not wanting to waste one, I’ve held it back ever since!

Unstrung

The safe unlocks with a quiet click. Moving slowly, just in case there’s a tripwire I haven’t disabled, I open the door and reach inside. The chip rests in a foam-lined box. I ease it free and slip it into a small pocket inside the gear pouch strapped around my waist.

Robbery number sixty-three: success.

I close the safe, then start a cautious trek back to the window. I’m careful to retrace my steps, traveling the exact path I used to come in. So far I’ve bypassed a laser tripwire net, a few pressure plates, and a motion sensor. Kind of disappointing. I thought one of Precipice’s labs would be more heavily secured, and I like a challenge. This room is too easy — just four wide lab tables with thick, black tops, some data equipment on the counters and the wall safe. A few terminals even provide a soft blue glow to work by. Nothing to get in my way or force me into the motion sensor’s path. Much, much too easy.

Which means something’s wrong.

Lexa doesn’t remember the time before she appeared on Turpin’s doorstep, drugged out of her mind at ten years old. Getting — and staying — clean has been a constant struggle, but her job as a master thief requires absolute focus, and over the past few years she’s had support not only from Turpin but from Jole, a young man who’s like a brother to her. With the help of this adopted family, Lexa’s life has become if not conventional, then at least somewhat stable in its own way.

These days, aged 17, her primary purpose in life is to creep through the night, stealing on demand from the corporation that rules the city. But when she unwittingly acquires a set of schematics that turn out to describe the latest generation of artificial humans, she and her confederates are looking at serious trouble. At the centre of the story are the Bolts — engineered humans who with every iteration are becoming more and more human in their emotions, while retaining super-human levels of health and mental capacity.

In many ways Unstrung is laid out as a typical, high-octane YA adventure, but it undoubtedly sits at the more thoughtful end of the spectrum. A transhumanist vision of the future is employed to introduce hefty issues of family, community, and acceptance. And the question of what defines a person sits at the heart of this novel; identity and agency are core themes. The plot is fast-paced, but the philosophical questions stayed with me long after the final chapter.

Unstrung is available on Amazon; a sequel, Uprising, is also available.

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