Ethics and racism, Ruby Cowan
In Denis Wright’s second novel, Nanotech, we are introduced to Joe Baxter, who isn’t your average story hero. He’s happy to live life observing, to his own obsessive level. He states that he often thinks of his life as a movie, him being a bit-role. There are a few odd things about Joe, first being that he remembers nothing before the age of 10, when he had a major bike accident. Now, he doesn’t speak very often, and has trouble saying more than a few words at once. He also has “nothing moments”, when he remembers nothing to cover the incident from when he was 10 years old. He narrates the story in two parts, both past and present tense, and we see his clever wit which he hides in his silence.
The main characters are all part of the Science and Technology Ethics Committee, or STEC, led by teacher Bernie. We get a slightly more detailed explanation about Bernie than anyone else, because she is the most interesting and controversial character. Bernie is generally a happy, outgoing woman, who normally gets her way. She is a tad crazy, but that’s what everyone loves about her. The other STECs we get a glimpse of are strong personalities, which Wright has carefully considered. Bossy Moira can seem overwhelming, but is really the push the group needs to stand up and fight. Golden boy Andy is struggling with more inner demons than anyone ever knows. And Toke, the supposedly smartest STEC there is, seems lazy, but has his heart in the right place.
The story begins in an average Wellington high school, when Bernie manages to get the older STECs a trip to Auckland to talk to the infamous scientist, Andre Hoffmein. Everything seems to be running smoothly until Joe, in one of his nothing moments, discovers there could be a sinister plot unfolding within the conference. After informing the other STECs, the villains, who later reveal themselves as the New Aryan Brotherhood (NAB), can’t let them escape, so they are kidnapped along with the Professor, and trapped in the Waitakere Ranges. Bernie keeps everyone sane by keeping calm, and the STECs do their best to follow her example. The students’ true colours come out, and we get to know each one rather well, without huge information dumps.
The major issue in this book seems to be racism.
The NAB are planning to wipe out every single African American, with the Professor’s newfound research on a disease that can infect only certain ethnic groups. Their motives may be questionable, but they are passionate about their cause, and are more than willing to hurt others to get a result. When we hear about the NABs’ points of view on racism, they tell stories that are still not explanations for the mass murder they want to commit, but you can see how they might have been influenced to think the way they do. Meanwhile, Joe is undergoing some major character development, and we finally begin to learn about his past, which isn’t as sugar-coated as we might have thought.
I think this book is aimed at slightly older, more mature readers, from 12 up, because some of the content is quite confronting. The book is relatively easy to understand, and the only part where I felt confused was when Bernie was explaining some of the nanotechnology concepts to the NABs, and even then it wasn’t overly hard to follow, since she was trying to teach an audience with barely any clue about the subject.
My opinion on why Wright wrote this book is that he wanted to bring more attention to the problems of racism. This book makes the issue seem more real, and shows that threats like these are an actual problem in our modern world. It is a very realistic book, and everything is told as it is, not as people necessarily want to hear.
So, in conclusion, I highly recommend this book, as it was thoroughly entertaining; I never got bored with it and read it all in one session. The characters had depth, the plotline was well thought out, and the added twists and side plots really gave the story extra impact. I would give it four out of five stars.
Ruby Cowan is 14 years old and comes from Wellington.