Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman


Dr. Frankie Burke, a scientist and evolutionary theorist, arrives at the doors of the Foundation ready to put her hard-earned MacArthur grant money towards studying the mating patterns of the bonobos within. She also has a new outlook on her life, now that she has been cured of a long struggle with crippling endometriosis. She can accredit this cure to the ever-growing technological advancements of her time, which have both saved her life and taken over the lives of everyone on earth. In Frankie’s dystopian world, most humans have tech “lenses” implanted inside of them, food is 3D printed, and raging climate change results in extreme health conditions.

Rarely have I read a book that made me look at ethics, technology, animals, and communication with such a discerning eye. The dystopian underpinnings of Theory of Bastards presents itself subtly as we enter the book and kicks up significantly about halfway through as disaster strikes the Foundation. Schulman excels in this genre and makes her readers ask hard questions about not-far-away future possibilities and the extreme pros and cons of technology and medical advancements. We also face the results of the way humans are living now, which is growing increasingly important in our current political climate.

However, Schulman never shies away from the duality of these scenarios. For example, the author presents us with our main character, Frankie. She has undergone a procedure that has eliminated an extremely painful and life-altering disease from her body and has allowed her to return to a “normal,” pain free life without endometriosis. On the other hand, Frankie is surrounded by tourists at the bonobo foundation who can hardly function in reality because they are so tuned in to the technology directly implanted into their ears and eyes. Frequently, Frankie points out how odd and naked the world looks when she has these devices turned off and through comments like these, Schulman directs us readers to consider our futures and ask ourselves, is this worth it? How will we unplug ourselves and find the ability to really live if our technology is one with us? I found this type of no-win questions both extremely fascinating and extremely alarming.

Schulman also has a great talent for writing about communication. Much of this book tackles human forms of conveying thoughts to another being and the emotional intelligence directly tied to talking, signing, and other non-verbal communication. The bonobos Frankie and Stotts work with cannot speak, but they can understand sign language and can communicate their needs in a huge variety of ways. Due to circumstances outside their control, Frankie and Stotts need to quickly learn how to speak to the primates and keep them safe. Not only is it fascinating to read so intimately the emotions of these advanced creatures, but it will pull on your heartstrings as the group begins to regard the humans as part of their family. This theme of love and the bonds of caring for another that presents itself both in humans and in the animals was one of my favorite parts of this book.

There is so much to discuss about this book that I couldn’t possibly hit everything in one review. Overall, I can say that this book is emotionally intelligent, thought-provoking, well-written and well worth the 400+ page count. Highly recommend if you want to dabble in science fiction but aren’t fully committed to other worlds yet!

Shop Theory of Bastards here!

PUBLICATION DETAILS: Europa Editions, 2018, pp. 416, ISBN: 9781609454371. Fiction -> Science Fiction; Dystopian.


This post includes an Amazon affiliate link. :) Shopping through this link gives me a small compensation for introducing you to a product, so feel free to use it when purchasing!