Run Lab Rat Run, by Shawn. C. Butler
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Today, I’m excited to be reviewing Run Lab Rat Run, by Shawn. C. Butler.
So, if you’ve got your favourite drink to hand and are all settled in, let’s begin.
Media Conaill was birthed and raised in a bio-engineering lab, where numerous genetic modifications were tested on her. On her 21st birthday, she is invited to take part in an Ultra Marathon, a race run this year by both synthetics and naturals. Excited to finally be allowed out of the lab she grew up in, Media jumps at the chance for a small sliver of freedom.
The races are designed to test the capability of humans, both natural and modified. However, as one of the few beta models competing, Media is at a distinct disadvantage. Not only must she face the dangerous obstacles of the race courses; she must also fight her growing feelings for natural runner, Danny, feelings which illicit hatred from the public. Furthermore, certain individuals have made it their mission to sabotage Media’s efforts in the races, endangering her very life.
Can Media complete the race she’s set her heart on?
More importantly, will Media be the same person by the end of the races?
Media Conaill, nicknamed ‘Fiddy’ by her brother, is a 21 year old lab-rat who has spent most of her life inside of a bio-engineering lab as a test subject for various genetic modifications. She has a tricky relationship with people, having never had much time to spend with family or friends. We learn, when she’s preparing for the marathon races, that she has a particular fascination with predatory animals, a theme which runs throughout the book. Symbolically, we see Media begin with the view that she is a predator, only later to discover that she is as much prey as anyone else on the marathon courses. Finally, through hard work and endurance, she comes to see herself as a predator in her own right, as a tough and dangerous animal deserving of others respect. Her narration throughout demonstrated a fun sense of humour that made her easy to like; I particularly enjoyed how she would give random body parts or animals fun nicknames. In addition, Media proved herself to be stubborn, impulsive, and persistent in the pursuit of her goals, which only endeared her to me more.
Tommy, Media’s goofy brother is an athletically modified human, who has previously run in the marathons. As such, he acted as a source of additional information for Media as she entered the marathons for the first time. Tommy showed himself to be open, a kind and caring individual that always had people’s backs. He preferred people to get along and proved to be a loyal and protective brother, always doing his best to help Media as she progressed through the races. His fun-loving and playful nature when around Media left me with warm fuzzy feelings.
Danny, a natural runner didn’t appear to play a big part in the story at first. I half expected that he would be used to make a point about naturals and would then be forgotten. However, I was pleasantly surprised when this was not the case. ‘Danny, Daniel, Dan’ as Media affectionately refers to him, has a powerful athletic form for an unmodified human and demonstrated the sheer willpower that natural humans have at their disposal. He had a playful personality and seemed to accept his position in life, despite his poor background. He proved to be a selfless and kind individual, doing everything he could to help improve his family’s way of living. It wasn’t hard to see why Media fell for him as he allowed her to just be herself around him, without having to act the part of the ‘socially-better’ modified. Danny provided a unique contrast to the modified characters in that he was one of only few naturals to participate in the races. To me, he was a shining beacon of true humanity’s potential, carrying on even when all hope looks to have been lost.
Coach, a synthetic advisor to Media’s marathon team, was a very interesting character. Despite being a synthetic, he was unusually emotive. Although he does explain that his apparent free will is simply an illusion created by his coders, he often stumps Media at how visibly human he seems. For one, he was pushy in a way that showed Media how much he cared for her wellbeing. He was also curious, full of questions for a synthetic, which only added to his very human-like nature. I felt that his character pushed the boundaries of how people in Media’s world viewed synthetics. He certainly caused Media to question his humanity, considering the difference between true human nature and a simulated version.
Although there are multiple antagonistic individuals in this story, I’ve chosen to focus on the example of Jessica for the purpose of this review. Jessica, also a runner in the marathons, is an augmented; a highly modified human being that possesses incredible levels of strength and speed. This cruel and self-important young woman was immediately dislikeable, treating Media as though she were no more than dirt. She had a particularly distasteful attitude toward naturals and did whatever she wanted during the races, no matter who it ended up hurting. Beautiful but deadly, Jessica is tasked with making sure Media knows her place in the races. In every scene she appeared in, she gave me chills as I imagined going up against her myself, fearing I would lose.
There was so much that I enjoyed with Run Lab Rat Run. Below are just a few key examples.
- The character’s narration had a memorable voice with a strong personality.
- The world building is amazing, set 100 years or so into the future, where humanity is heavily genetically modified. There was lots of impressive detail included, adding much needed context to certain scenes.
- I especially liked how the social hierarchy of the world was explained, with ‘naturals’ at the bottom and an idealized, near-fully genetically-engineered self at the top. There is much discussion about the polarizing nature of such a futuristic society, with naturals being treated as sub-human, and ‘modified’ being the norm.
- I liked that each section of the race course had a brief description, as if from a news team. It made it easier to picture each part and to understand the specific risks involved.
- There were layers of conflict and tension explored (external, internal, and interpersonal), which were woven seamlessly throughout the book.
As always, I kept my eyes peeled for quotes which sparked something in me. While reading Run Lab Rat Run, I came across many quotes which caused me to stop and think, however, I settled on the following four as I believe they had the greatest impact.
1) ‘A I thought about what Berrick had said, about the way of the world, and how people always stood on top of others. About hierarchy and class, and how it changes but never changes at the same time. Where I fit and where I didn’t.’
This quote shows Media questioning where she belongs in the world. Having spent her life as a modified lab rat, she initially thought herself better than naturals. Now, seeing those who are more heavily modified than her makes her question her previous outlook.
2) ‘Almost everyone who had PAs subscribed to the grand illusion, a changing set of visual themes applied to everything- Everyone saw what they wanted, how they wanted, unless of course they didn’t have PAs and then they saw this ugliness, or reality, which seemed to be the same thing.’
In a way, Media’s world draws a parallel with our own. The filters they use to alter their reality can be likened to our own modern life and social media. Similarly, filters are placed over us and our lives, masking reality in false impressions. Even in our world, people see what they want to see, dismissing what disinterests them, or what they don’t agree with.
3) ‘Naturals died- maybe it was easier if we pretended not to care, but it still didn’t feel right.’
Here, we see Media questioning how naturals are treated as subhuman. The most human part of her doesn’t feel right about this, yet her social upbringing would see her treat naturals as lesser than herself. It is seen as easier to pretend that naturals aren’t human and worthwhile, that their lives don’t mean as much, but Media feels her humanity fighting against these socially-conditioned notions of superiority and inferiority.
4) ‘You feed the illusion, or everything falls apart- people need their distractions.’
This quote hit me the hardest as there was something fundamentally true about it. Illusions are often easily shattered in life. Thus, people must keep up the pretence at all costs, never wavering in their belief in the illusion for more than a millisecond. It must constantly be emphasized, so that people buy into it. Likewise, distractions help people not to consider the harsh and unfair nature of reality; they seek pleasure so they can forget pain. However, ignoring the problems of the world doesn’t make them go away. Such problems only continue to grow. If the illusion shatters and we are forced to face said problems, maybe we would take them more seriously.
Run Lab Rat Run proved to be an insightful and gripping read, surrounding core themes of society, discrimination, and genetic modification. It is a story primarily exploring the different attitudes to naturals and modifides, showcasing how the naturals are seen as weak, and the modifides deemed better versions of a long-forgotten humanity.
It was a highly thought-provoking read, discussing important issues that may one day become more relevant in our everyday lives.
My Rating: 5 stars.
Recommended to: lovers of gripping futuristic tales with themes of society, inequality, and genetic modification.
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