5 out of 5 stars: This book successfully mingles elements from science fiction and mystery with the attachment people have to their pets, all to excellent effect. The authors have also created complex and interesting characters across the board, from central characters to minor ones. The people and the society of the book are well defined and well developed without being trite on one hand or over explained on the other. The balance in this book is really incredible, and the ideas and questions the book deals with have surprising depth and resonance with our present world. Also, flawlessly edited and formatted and intelligently written. This book offers a little something for an incredibly wide variety of people, and uses each element perfectly from beginning to end. It’s a book that defines what a 5 star book should be, and illustrates some of the great possibilities open to independent writers and audiences.
“The Caline Conspiracy” is a science fiction novel by Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, together writing under the pen name of M.H. Mead. The story begins when private investigator Aidra Scott is asked by a wealthy animal lover to investigate the murder of her husband by her beloved pet. The woman insists that the animal could never have committed such an act of violence, but Aidra isn’t convinced until she begins to understand exactly what kind of pet the woman is talking about. Madeline is what the woman calls it, and Melanie is a caline, a pet genetically engineered to compatibility with its owner. The company who creates and sells the calines is intent on putting Madeline down for the crime, but as Aidra learns more about the new species she’s more and more certain that GeCreations has other reasons to dispose of an innocent animal.
I’d like to say “let’s start with the good news” but since I haven’t got anything but good news about this book, I won’t. Instead I’m going to say right up front that I have no criticisms of this book at all, that I’m giving it the first 5 star rating in Underground history, and that because of this book, I’m going to have to revise my definition of a 5 star book. There’s just no way around it. I won’t say this book is flawless, because I’m not sure that’s possible. And maybe “The Caline Conspiracy” isn’t the generation or culture-defining kind of brilliance that someone might expect from a 5 star book. But there are really brilliant things in it, and it’s a damn good read.
Why? Where to begin? Just about everything I can think of is carried off amazingly well. But let’s start with the main character Aidra Scott. First, it takes a certain amount of wit and sensitivity to cast the working single mother of a teenage son as a hard-bitten P.I. Second, it takes a certain amount of intelligence to throw a futuristic P.I. into a science fiction book and effectively tell a mystery story in a sci-fi setting. But “The Caline Conspiracy” does both of these things, and does them incredibly well.
Aidra Scott is a divorcee and mother, who also knows how to swear, shoot a gun and throw a punch. Aidra Scott is an incredibly well rounded character. She’s also a great feminine character, funny without being silly, strong without being stoic and sober without being sentimental, who doesn’t go completely to pieces over shoes and boys. In short, she’s a grown ass woman with real problems and a real life. Aidra Scott brings such realism to the book, I’m tempted to say she “plays the lead” in a science fiction story, instead of just calling her the main character. Aidra is a fantastic anchor for the novel’s plot.
But to be clear, the plot of the book is solid on its own. There is something really brilliantly mundane about how the book begins, and how the main conflict revolves around someone’s genetically engineered pet. The book takes place in the future, but it’s a future that looks kind of boring, sort of the way the year 2000 might have looked to someone from 1950. Lots of things are pretty familiar, but there are a few advances to carry it as science fiction. There’s also a whole back story for the society that is only discussed as it relates to the book’s present tense. There’s nothing overly expository or explanatory, but readers get enough information to understand why one of the GeCreation designer pets being prime suspect in a murder is important to the culture, the company, and even the main characters of the book. Technology is futuristic but not absurd, and cool without being cliché.
There’s enough progress into the future for the book to count as science fiction, but it works superbly as a cozy-kind of murder mystery too. This is especially impressive because the character at the heart of the entire conflict of the book is essentially…a dog. Particularly well balanced is the authors’ characterization of the bad guys. They aren’t evil, or totalitarians or fascists. The character who turns out to be the villain of the novel is just as well motivated by sympathetic interests as the main character, and the outcome of the book is decided with the same complexity.
At its heart, “The Caline Conspiracy” has a lot to say about animals, but it isn’t something that will only appeal to animal lovers. This book wisely steers around more cliché and cutesy moments which might have alienated people not especially interested in “The Dog Whisperer.” Instead, “The Caline Conspiracy” engages the reader with serious questions about genetic manipulation, human identity and corporate power. It’s an astonishing interplay of ideas which will interest an incredible variety of people.
“The Caline Conspiracy” is a great book for a lot of different reasons. It’s well paced, well formatted, well edited with an interesting story, solid characters, and a plot that is engaging and entertaining. It’s smart, and fun and was a great read from beginning to end. Even language is used in an interesting and educated manner without being pretentious or self-important. I know it sounds like I’m gushing, and I am, but I tried pretty hard to find something to balance out my review. All I came up with is that I’m not sure it’s a culturally definitive book. It does ask some interesting questions though, so I’m not even sure that’s entirely true. So 5 stars it is.