It is 500 years in the future and the last human has died (in Sweden). Humanity has been replaced by the engineered species it created. The Erta were designed to restore the Earth to how it once was, to repair its environmental and ecological damage. It seemed only natural that they should also remove the human race which did all of the harm. But now that the planet is healthy once more, the Erta decide on a project. A human child will be born that will be raised by Ima, the scientist who worked to heal the skies. If the child proves worthy then the Erta will consider restoring humans to the planet. It will be a climicial experiment. No feelings will be involved. If the child falls short, it can be eliminated at any time.
This is the fantastic starting premise of The Human Son by Adrian J Walker, the author of the wonderful The End of the World Running Club. Once more the author returns to the end of the world, at least for humans, but now the story of humanity’s possible reintroduction to the world is set upon a beautifully restored planet, naturally balanced, healthy and full of life, and watched over by the extraordinary Erta. I loved this novel from start to finish, not just because it’s a fabulous story but also because of its portrayal of Ima, which is magnificent.
Ima tells her story, and that of the child, Reed, in her own words, as if she were reading it to the boy. This immediately connects us to Ima as she faithfully recounts in every detail what it was like for her to raise a human baby, child and teenager. At the beginning, Ima is clinical as she describes (this can be so funny!) the details of putting food in an infant and dealing with what comes out the other end. She also doesn’t know how to communicate with the child or whether he can be left alone or not. And then it all begins to change, as Reed is finally named and he becomes Ima’s human son, a son she would die for.
This portrayal of love, selfless and relentless, is beautifully written. I was spellbound by it and grew to love Ima deeply, as well as the Erta (and human) closest to her as we learn more about this strange society and these even stranger beings. There is much more to the Erta than we might think from the initial pages and it’s fascinating learning about their family structures, their drive for transcendence, their zeal, their science, and their memories of humans and human things. At times it is absolutely chilling. There are occasional glimpses of what it must have been like for mankind to know it was being removed from life. As you’d expect, we’re reminded through Ima’s experiment that there are aspects of a human’s character that make it a species worth resurrecting – music, drawing and so on – but it’s much more complex than that, especially when we learn more about the Erta. There is a great deal of mystery about the Erta and this drives on the pace even while we are engrossed with the gorgeous writing.
I listened to the audiobook of The Human Son and its narration by Alison O’Donnell is enchanting. I was spellbound.
I have no doubt that this will be among my top books of the year.
The End of the World Running Club