cover image Cold People

Cold People

Tom Rob Smith. Scribner, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-1-9821-9840-4

What lines, if any, shouldn’t be crossed to save humanity from extinction? That question is at the heart of this stunning postapocalyptic thriller from bestseller Smith (Child 44). Twenty years after an alien invasion has decimated Earth’s human population, those who remain have been struggling to survive in Antarctica, the only region not deemed off-limits by the invaders. While some focus on insuring that people have food and shelter, others have broader objectives; genetic engineers manipulate animal DNA, attempting to create versions of humans better capable of surviving in the intense cold. Some, like Echo, a teenager, appear basically human, despite their modifications, which in her case include scales instead of skin that change color to either retain or expel heat. But there are also monstrous creations, which may either point the way to a future for humanity or pose an existential threat. Echo and her family, along with those governing the remnants of humanity, face tough ethical choices as they try to ascertain the implications of what the genetic engineering has achieved for humanity’s future. The central story line, a clever homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, unfolds in a way to ensure readers become attached to Echo and her family. Smith, the author of brilliant historical and psychological suspense novels, shows his range is even broader in this triumph of imagination and empathy. Agent: Mitch Hoffman, Aaron M. Priest Literary. (Feb.)