Incisive British writer and satirist Charlie Brooker has described his dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror as being set in “the future 10 minutes from now,” a show that, like most worthwhile science fiction, seems to live on the outer edge of our technological capabilities.
After all, science fiction has predicted—and in some cases, inspired—a slew of innovations: everything from the moon landing to credit cards, anti-depressants and mobile phones were first dreamed up by some prescient writer. But more than just forecasting emerging technologies, sci-fi has also sounded the alarm over the potential dangers of unfettered progress.
So when Whistler writer and admitted techno wonk Lucien Telford was researching his debut novel, The Sequence, he was surprised to find a relative lack of science fiction that dealt with an emerging technology that he is deeply fascinated—and unnerved—by.
“I’m very interested in science technology … and I found a space in science fiction that I wanted to read that wasn’t there, and it was genetics,” he says.
In an era when anyone with a credit card and internet connection can have a DNA editing kit show up on their doorstep in mere hours, Telford didn’t see many books asking the question: can we go too far in playing God?
“At its core, the book addresses the ethics of human genetic manipulation, which is just around the corner for us in what will very soon not be science fiction at all,” he says.
“Imagine if you wanted to develop a biological weapon—airborne is a good way to go—and if you could genetically modify it using CRISPR [a genetic editing technique that stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats] or whatever the future genetic scissoring method is, you could do anything with it. You could put Ebola in that virus and spread it. So it is a terrifying prospect and nobody is talking about it.”
Weaving three stories together into “a fast-paced, near-future techno thriller,” The Sequence follows Kit McKee, the world’s leading genetic editor, who is working on a secret side project from her lab in northern China. Then there’s Dallas Ward, a former civilian pilot who now transports contraband for a Hong Kong crime syndicate and has been tasked with a special delivery. Meanwhile, Fong and Woo are two Hong Kong detectives who begin investigating a series of homicides that mysteriously appear to only take place during typhoons. When genetically edited bodies start turning up, the trail leads them to Kit, who has suddenly gone missing.
“I thought I’d tell that story through an intriguing thriller about a pilot who is smuggling contraband from Aus and a couple Hong Kong police detectives,” Telford explains. “Thematically it asks of the reader quite an ethical question: should we be messing around with human DNA?”
An airline pilot by trade who spent seven years living in Hong Kong at the turn of the millennium, the 49-year-old Telford drew on his own life in formulating some of the story and character elements of The Sequence, a process that began in an online writing course several years ago.
Not only his first book, The Sequence is Telford’s first ever piece of published writing—and he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“People have asked about that in the past and I needed a creative outlet at the end of the day,” he says. “I do not have a background in genetics. But I have a very, very curious mind, an intelligent father and I think maybe the two of those came together in my research into genetics.”
The Sequence is available at Armchair Books in the village, at both the Whistler and Pemberton libraries, and wherever books are sold online. Learn more at lucientelfordbooks.com.