Blog Tour Book Review

Off Target by Eve Smith

In an all-too-possible near future, when genetic engineering has become the norm for humans, not just crops, parents are prepared to take incalculable risks to ensure that their babies are perfect… altering genes that may cause illness, and more…

Susan has been trying for a baby for years, and when an impulsive one-night stand makes her dream come true, she’ll do anything to keep her daughter and ensure her husband doesn’t find out… including the unthinkable. She believes her secret is safe. For now.

But as governments embark on a perilous genetic arms race and children around the globe start experiencing a host of distressing symptoms – even taking their own lives – something truly horrendous is unleashed. Because those children have only one thing in common, and people are starting to ask questions…

I thoroughly enjoyed The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith and I jumped at the chance to take part in the blog tour for Off Target – a speculative thriller that looks at a near-future world in which genetic engineering in humans is becoming increasingly prevalent.  

The world building in Off Target is fantastic and I very quickly became immersed in this future Britain that borders on the dystopian.  With fertility rates dropping, IVF and other means of conception are becoming the norm as are genetic profiling and gene editing. These technologies collide in such a way as to enable the profiling of an unborn child for any undesirable hereditary traits, removing them prior to birth. On the face of it, it sounds like a reasonable idea, helping to eradicate hereditary health conditions and genetic predispositions and resulting in a healthier, happier population.  Smith’s tone is cautionary throughout, however, as the technology races ahead of the regulation that would be necessary to protect both parents and their unborn children as well as preventing the technology from being used for more nefarious purposes.

The main protagonist is Susan – a wonderfully ordinary and flawed individual who wants nothing so much as to be a mother.  Despite the options available to them, her husband, Steve, insists on doing it the old-fashioned way even though they’ve been trying to conceive for four years with no luck.  Their sex life has been reduced to a chore dictated by apps and menstrual cycles and the strain is beginning to show.  When Susan falls pregnant after a one-night stand, she is understandably desperate to keep the child, and yet doesn’t want to lose her husband either. As an opportunity arises to fix the problem via a highly experimental procedure, Susan sees no other option and agrees, leaving the reader to ponder the question of whether the end really justifies the means.

I raced through this novel in two sittings – I was completely caught up in Susan’s predicament and was desperate to know how her choices would play out, both in terms of her relationship with Steve as well as the wellbeing of her daughter, Zurel. Susan is an interesting character – one that I sympathised with whilst simultaneously judging her for her actions and decisions.  Trying for a child for four years would put a strain on any relationship, particularly when the only thing standing between you and some assistance is your husband’s pride and his decision – seemingly without consultation – that they will conceive naturally or not at all. The one-night stand is – obviously – inadvisable, although I must admit that Marty sounds like quite the catch, particularly in comparison to the controlling Steve.  I fully understood her desire to keep the child, even if the lengths that she goes to in order to hide her indiscretion are extraordinary, and while the reader senses that it’s a bad idea, it does make for an incredibly compelling narrative.

The first half of the novel focusses on Susan becoming pregnant and the procedure she agrees to while the second half is set eleven years later showing the aftermath not only of Susan’s decision, but also for others who have modified their children in some way as reports of suicide among the genetically enhanced start to spread far and wide.  For me, the victim in all of this is Zurel – she never asked for any of this and is put in a terrifying situation through no fault of her own.  Smith successfully keeps the reader on tenterhooks as you wait to find out what the impact of Susan’s decision will be for Zurel and whether Susan’s secrets will be revealed. 

As with the best speculative fiction, Smith gives the reader plenty to consider, and I think that Off Target would make a fantastic book group read with plenty of points to discuss.  The ethical questions behind this technology are highlighted, including the impact for those who receive such treatment with no say in the matter, as well as the views of the religious fundamentalists who object to scientists attempting to “play god”.  What really stuck with me was that while the technology might start out with good intentions (and we all know where they lead) that this could all too easily stray into the realm of eugenics as the desire for a “perfect” child causes parents to make ever more dramatic edits to their progeny, going beyond the removal of the genes associated with harmful hereditary conditions to the point of a true designer baby.

Off Target is a slightly terrifying yet thought-provoking speculative thriller that puts an ordinary family in impossible situation.  Absolutely brilliant and highly recommended.

About the Author

Eve Smith writes speculative fiction – mainly about the things that scare her – which she attributes to a childhood watching Tales of the Unexpected and black-and-white Edgar Allen Poe double bills. Previously COO of an environmental charity, she has an ongoing passion for wild creatures, wild science, and far-flung places.

Take a look at all the other wonderful bloggers and bookstagrammers taking part in the tour:


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