“Dust particles danced in their headlights as they passed, an industrial haze illuminated in the beams against a darkened backdrop, the city’s background taint.”
Telford begins his novel with some definitions of laws that exist within the universe he creates. These laws include prohibitions against 1) growing living humans from cloned material 2) editing the human genome for the purposes of enhancement 3) humans being used as test subjects for genetic alteration, and 4) illegal transportation to elude taxation and prohibition laws, ergo smuggling. You just know from these definitions being provided at the onset that some of our characters are going violate these rules, and that is going to make things very interesting. No disappointment here: that’s exactly what happens.
For me, “The Sequence” is very much about secrets, clandestine pursuits, and moral questions about what constitutes “the end justifies the means”. Save for the police investigators in the novel (and even with them there is some moral ambiguity) everyone has something major to hide, that can cost them everything, up to and including their lives.
The setting for “The Sequence” is a dystopian-like near-future earth. There, the plot follows several POVs. The three main POV characters are Dr. Kit McKee, Dallas Ward, and Detective Woo. The reader will follow their unique stories as they align, all tied together by a shadowy, powerful, reclusive figure, who strikes terror in the heart of governments, much less individuals.
McKee is a brilliant scientist, an American expat, working for a private company in China. Her field is genetics, and she is one of the world’s best in that sphere. She and close friend / fellow top scientist, Nigerian-Canadian Avery Hill, have been provided some of the most elite laboratory facilities possible to conduct their research. However, both are keeping things from each other. In particular, Kit is working alone on a secret project that is at best controversial. And Hill is engaging in other activities that could compromise his friendship with Kit, and potentially ruin her trust in him forever.
Meanwhile, Dallas Ward, and his partner Camerica, are pilots and smugglers. They are employed by a Hong Kong triad. That particular gang wields large global influence, does not suffer failure gladly, and tends to keep their contracts short, with contract termination meaning the literal end for their contractors. Faced with this numbing prospect, and flying the latest in advanced stealth airplane technology, Dallas and Camerica (Cam) are very well compensated to risk life, limb, and liberty, trying to avoid imprisonment or being shot down by the authorities, or killed by their employers should they botch any of their illicit missions.
Finally, Hong Kong Police senior Detective Woo, and his partner Fong, have been drawn into the investigation of murders linked to the field in which McKee specializes. Woo is haunted by tragedy occurring in a task force unit he was once part of, and dodged in his determination to get to the bottom of the crimes, which seem to follow after turbulent weather episodes.
These characters are fascinating. Each are intelligent, talented, driven, but lonely or isolated, conflicted, and trapped in their own unique fears and issues. They are very well fleshed out, and the reader will be engrossed in their fates. The best characters have the reader easily envision what they would look like, if portrayed by famous actors on the screen, and Telford’s slick narrative does that for me.
Ward – who I would have played by someone like Henry Golding or Darren Criss – reminds me of legendary charming rogue smugglers of screen sci-fi lore such as Dominick Cobb, and Hans Solo. I can see Chow Yun Fat or Jet Li, with all their gravitas and charisma, playing the movie / tv version of Detective Woo. And for the heart of the story, the genius, ambitious, strong yet vulnerable heroine McKee, could be portrayed by someone like Constance Wu or Ali Wong. This book definitely deserves a movie adaptation some day down the road – it just plays well to that sort of conversion. No doubt it would look gorgeous on the big or small screen.
Beyond exceptional characters, “The Sequence” has the best elements every popular sci-fi books needs: it illustrates the relationship between the characters and the future environment, and how that new-age environment impacts them; it explains the future technologies, systems, and how they operate in a way that is readily understood; and it features incredibly cool, sexy tech that is imaginative candy for the reader.
The pacing feels like a great spy thriller, or police procedural. Its fast, yet Telford manages not to skimp on the details, and truly suck the reader into his novel, with a potent blend of action and exposition, highlighted by evocative prose.
Oh, that succulent prose. I have read few sci-fi books that pay the kind of attention to detail and description that I crave, which catapults me into the setting as if I am actually there. Not so with Telford. This author had me captivated with the elegance of his writing in the opening paragraphs:
“A staccato of shallow flora along a bare, wind-razored stretch of savannah, pimples on a barren landscape, short grasses scorched by a summer’s fierce sunlight. In the distance, the tendril-like fingers of a fiery-red sunrise crept up behind blackening thunderheads through the pre-dawn East African air, the rising sun illuminating their silhouettes with a background of blood-red sky.”
Finally, the book incites thought-provoking questions about genetic enhancement, and whether or not this is something good for humankind, or bad. I found the exploration of this topic riveting. Great science fiction books make one think about future possibilities for the human race, and where they could take us, and Telford’s novel certainly delivers on that aspect.
“The Sequence” is a gripping, flawlessly-paced, diverting, beautifully written action sci-fi thriller. This one is bound to garner many more great reviews, and I predict Telford is in for his share of writing accolades in the future. He is surely a great writer to watch.