Attempt at edgy sci-fi falls prey to sexism and anti-intellectualism


Photo by Renae Musekamp

Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned books can go awry. Origin by Jessica Khoury is one of those books. The novel presents a unique premise and an interesting story, and while initially, it didn’t engage me at all, I pressed on in hopes that better things were to come. I was mistaken. In the last quarter of the book, I was moved out of boredom to fury.

Let me be quite clear with this. Women are not possessions to be claimed and owned by men. You are not “truly, madly, deeply in love” after three days of acquaintance, no matter how “perfect” the other person is. There is a huge difference between “science” and “magic”—pretending they’re the same thing only makes you look stupid. And under no circumstances can you steal lines from Kurt Vonnegut and expect it to be okay.

In short: NO. No to this book and to the messages it conveys. No to the plot, the characters, the insta-love, and to the sexism. No. Just no.

Pia is a modern marvel; she’s immortal. As she’s told fifty times a day, Pia is perfect—just ask her and she’ll tell you all about how perfect she is. When she sneaks out of the science facility she was created in and runs into a native boy, she finds out the horrible truth: Perfect Pia isn’t perfect after all. Horrors!

So she keeps meeting the boy, Eio. They spend about three hours together and they’re in love. You know how it is.

Slowly, Pia comes to realize what the reader has known since page 1. Turns out the scientists she grew up around are evil; they’re hiding something. (This common sentiment of anti-intellectualism—all science is evil—is becoming quite popular in young adult fiction, and can also be found in the work of Lauren DeStefano and Veronica Roth). Because she wanted to draw out the suspense, Jessica Khoury divulged zero answers until page 300. Ridiculous, in my opinion, and by the time the reveal came, I was underwhelmed because the way I see it, an author should only be unreasonably vague if she has HUGE information to tell the reader. Turns out Jessica Khoury didn’t have any such information.

Origin by Jessica Khoury
Photo by Renae Musekamp

Then there was some stuff about a flower that makes people immortal, as well as magicky mythology mumbo-jumbo that supposedly answered all of our questions about this “science.” Except it was actually magic, because if you’re telling me that crying immortal tears and then drinking the blood of the person who cried is a scientific reality and the answer to eternal life, then you’d better have a goodly amount of research and fact to back yourself up. Jessica Khoury didn’t have any such research.

Origin is a magic book, not a science book. I call fraud on whoever wrote the jacket blurb.

Oh yeah. And then the native boy, Eio, gives Pia a necklace and she accepts it. Turns out, that necklace means she’s his property for always. Hmm. Maybe it would have been nice to let Pia know that she was becoming a possession? Maybe asked her permission? Or, you know, Jessica Khoury could have done something really crazy like portray women as human beings, not things to be owned and claimed like pretty knickknacks. But maybe that’s too much to ask.

And anyway, who cares about the extremely sexist themes running around in Origin? Pia and Eio are “in love”, so why does any of that matter?

And finally, Kurt Vonnegut is Kurt Vonnegut. Ripping off his lines is tacky and makes you look unoriginal. “So it goes” is the ultimate catchphrase. Don’t think it won’t be recognized, Ms Khoury.

So basically, Origin was an awful book. It went beyond just plain bad to infuriating. There is no excuse for instalove. And there’s absolutely no excuse for the revolting sexism I’ve just read. And additionally, the plot, characters, and premise were boring and lackluster. All around, I will never read this book again, and I’ll think twice about reading anything from this author.

By Renae Musekamp

This book review was originally published at Respiring Thoughts on Dec. 2, 2012.