Review by C.J. Bunce
M.F. Gibson′s new novel Babylon Twins doesn’t seem to be targeted for the Young Adult section of the bookstore, but it should be. Following a pair of twins who share a secret language whose lives take a turn as a big pharma-virus, artificial intelligence experiment, and robot war collide to take down and remake civilization. The novel fits well with Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games novels and would make a good follow-up for fans of the series, especially older teens. More focused on their survival in a Creek Stewart sort of way (move along if you can’t stomach animal hunting for survival purposes), these girls don’t ever get the kind of gourmet food the competitors land in The Hunger Games. We meet the girls both when they’re young and later as young adults, and their lack of contacts and traditional educational resources keep their dialogue and needs more child-like than adult.
The best comparison to this story of dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi is the classic 1970s sci-fi film Logan’s Run. Like the Runners of that story, Clo and El live the best they can after escaping the new norm thanks to their mother, but when their mother leaves their forest hovel they decide to take their brother and return to the city to find her, ten years after the “end of the world.” This is far more classic sci-fi than zombie horror, a good entry point for young adult readers dabbling into the short stories and novels of Philip K. Dick (like Minority Report) and Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog. Encounters with freakish new lifeforms that aren’t what they seem as found in classic sci-fi like Logan’s Run or Beneath the Planet of the Apes combine with a setting sharing a lot with that of Dawn/Rise/War of the Planet of the Apes, or the Jessica Chastain movie Mama (without that movie’s kind of horror).
Readers of John Christopher’s Tripods series will also see parallels in Babylon Twins. Gibson’s wooded home for the girls conjures a loneliness oddly akin to Christopher McCandless’s grim solo journey in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, yet their path is much different. Girls with younger brothers may particularly love the book, as the older sisters really never give the poor little brother a break across the entire story, including chastising him, berating him as bigger sisters do, and even tying him up and throwing him in the car at one point. It’s all written with a dose of humor. And the youthful voice of the narrator and characters reveals a coming of age story for the twins, sometimes dipping into the stuff of middle grade stories from Judy Blume.
The dialogue is completely modern, with the Internet, cell phones, and other current tech and lots of the slang of today’s youth shared between Clo and El, which isn’t that common in dystopian sci-fi. This isn’t a distant future, it’s an accessible one that could be just around the corner. Whether the nature of the apocalypse is too strange will be subject to the eye of the individual reader.
Gibson has a lot of energy in his writing, detailed world-building that borders on perhaps too much complexity in the back half of the novel, and his futuristic vision sometimes brings about new creations, environments, and technology that may be difficult to visualize or wrap your head around. A few subordinate characters who return in the story could use some better descriptions to differentiate them. Our heroines get taken along for a ride in this story instead of driving the plot forward–hopefully the next books in the series provide for more of them taking charge of their lives instead of living in a strange, new world that is happening to them.