Kfir Luzzatto's The Odyssey Gene is an interesting look into the mind of the Israeli author. His characters are realistic (for the most part), and he has great plot twists—but his plot seemed a bit too contrived and the ending (which I won't ruin) could have been better crafted. |
In the realm of Sci-Fi, Kfir Luzzatto's The Odyssey Gene is high on fiction and low on science. True, John Hektor —our hero— travels across the galaxy in a spaceship to find a new home. It is also true that this new home has high-tech lasers that dispatch enemies. However, that is where the advanced technology of John's world ends.
John Hektor lives in a world remade by an epidemic disease. Once humanity recovered—via help from the "Odyssey" gene —those who are at risk of future infection lash out against those who are immune (referred to as "D-positives"). The result causes a "new" form of segregation: genetic segregation.
John escapes to Andania, a planet where D-positives can live like equal human beings. What John really finds in his new home is false advertising, mandatory military service, political intrigue, and false friends.
Upon arrival, he is conscripted into a military in which all citizens are required to serve. John loses contact with a love interest, and gains a friend—Barak. Incongruously, John decides to stay in the army past his required service.
Five years later, Barak summons John to his aid in the government. Barak has become influential — perhaps too much so. In the end, John's circumstances pare down his friends until the dross is gone and only his true friends remain.
Through his stint on Andania, John runs into many women who admire him: Dana — John's summer love on the starship ride to Andania, Tasha - a guileless junkie who captivates him, and Sammy — ostensibly his boss, and secretly interested in John. All these women, and more, have a part to play in his future.
Luzzatto does well to convey a sense of paranoia for poor John. By the end, I suspected everyone on Andania of trying to betray Andania to further their own ends.
Another interesting twist to this novel is how he weaves both North American and his native Israeli culture into a plot that spans two different worlds. For example, John moves from a North American-look at military, service on a voluntary basis, to a more Israeli-type military where everyone serves. Also, Luzzatto's names are, aside from John, very ethnic.
I also enjoyed the realistic twists to some of John's relationships. I don't know that everything about them was true to life, but in Luzzatto's slice of humanity, John meets up with shy young women, straight-playing junkies, and repressed career women. Even if it is a bit over-the-top how many women he ends up with!
Luzzatto's overall message seems to be that, no matter where you go, there is inequality, injustice, love, and loyalty — people are the same no matter where they live.
Unfortunately, I found this novel unsatisfactory for a number of reasons. First, the title is a misnomer—as far as I can tell, the plot doesn't center around the gene itself, but around one certain Odyssey Gene carrier. I felt that this gene should have a much better definition and background than Luzzatto gave it, especially since the book bears this gene's name as its title.
Second, John Hektor is, for no reason sufficiently explained, a lady magnet. It seemed like every time he turns around he was bumping into another woman who wanted into his life and/or bed. In fact, at the end of the novel, when almost all of these women come back to haunt or save him, I had to flip to previous parts of the novel to remember who was who.
Finally, I came away disappointed with the plot of The Odyssey Gene —mostly because Luzzatto lays quite a bit of groundwork toward the climax, but then ends the book abruptly. Too many unanswered questions were left when I closed the book. It leaves you wanting more.