Review – Mouse Cage by Malcolm F. Cross

Posted: February 7, 2023 in Sci-Fi, speculative fiction
Tags: , , ,

As the third book to make it to the next stage of the SPSFC 2 competition, Mouse Cage was an unexpected but wholly engaging read. Full disclosure, this is the third book I’ve read by Malcolm F. Cross and his skill as a writer is once again on full display in this deftly created and emotionally powerful story. Tragic in places and, somewhat, left-field of ‘standard’ science fiction, it’s a story that is immensely human.

In a far future, where war has ravaged Europe and Asia, leaving it a wasteland of fallout and warlords and refugees, America (or what’s left) is a bastion of sorts. Yet, along with its technological advances come certain abhorrent ethical practices. Troy and his brothers come under that latter category. Clones, labelled under some tangled legalise as specimen samples, the genetically engineered children (part mouse, part human) are used for experimentation. However, the tests are really a form of awful torture when conducted on a fully and intelligently aware being. When Troy, his brothers, along with all the other genengineered people, are emancipated, not only must society deal with what it means (what those children mean and what was done to them) but so must those children try to understand the trauma and horror of their past.

It’s years later when Troy is introduced, speaking at a charity fund raiser for his kind and trying to navigate the well-meaning and the thoughtlessness of people. Meeting Jennifer, herself a furry, the two begin a relationship as complex and problematic as their own respective pasts. What begins as a shy, wholesome interaction blossoms into something so much more, both tragic and real. There’s romance but it is set within a framework of behavioural patterns that are simultaneously destructive and alienating yet very human.

As Troy attempts to keep his brothers on track, his own life begins to unravel, firstly as his academic career tanks. The cracks in his tightly controlled life reveal so many truths; past memories deeply hidden, recurring nightmares, hidden coping mechanisms. And it spirals. Even as he tries to plaster over the cracks, circumstances conspire against him. The narrative weaves through some impressive world-building revealing a full and futuristic planet ravaged by events and struggling to find its balance. But, it is Troy, the anthropomorphised focus of the story, who gives so much insight into this future world full of disaster and hope.

As his relationship with Jennifer changes, the realities of it at times overwhelming Troy, there is more to see than just a struggling romantic entanglement. It’s the equation via which so much more is considered; ideas of identity, selfhood, and the weighty imprint of nurture versus nature. It raises huge ethical problems that mirror societies own systems and it’s desire to ignore the processes via which we achieve advancement. It pushes at concepts about conditioning and systematic programming. But, more than all that, it is a narrative about humanity in all its raw and complicated emotional condition.

A fascinating combination of parts, Mouse Cage marries brilliant sci-fi and powerful, complex ideas alongside an intensely moving story. Without a doubt, this book stood out from the rest of our team reads both for the astoundingly engaging writing and the surprising yet brilliant narrative. Highly recommended.

Review copy

Published independently


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