The best genetic engineering books

17 authors have picked their favorite books about genetic engineering and why they recommend each book.

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The Crucible of Time

By John Brunner,

Book cover of The Crucible of Time

A planet in its equivalent of the stone age is passing through a galactic debris field. An alien stargazer realizes that sooner or later some object will strike the planet and destroy it. The only hope of survival his species has is to leave the planet before that happens. But the concept is a mere abstraction to his people, the equivalent of a Neanderthal saying “we need to travel to the moon,” and the task is further complicated by the fact that their technology is biological in nature, focused on the manipulation of living tissue. It is hard to imagine how such technology could ever produce a spaceship. 

The novel--structured as a series of novellas-- follows the development of a fascinating alien species from its primitive roots to an age of high technology, each chapter focusing on a different time period. Always the stargazer’s warning is proclaimed by a few…


Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the workings of the human mind. What instincts and influences make us who we are? This Alien Shore grew out of research I was doing into atypical neurological conditions. It depicts a society that has abandoned the concept of “neurotypical”, embracing every variant of human perspective as valid and valuable. One of my main characters, Kio Masada, is autistic, and that gives him a unique perspective on computer security that others cannot provide. What might such a man accomplish, in a world where his condition is embraced and celebrated? Good science fiction challenges our definition of “Other,” and asks what it really means to be human, all in the context of an exciting story.


I wrote...

This Alien Shore

By C.S. Friedman,

Book cover of This Alien Shore

What is my book about?

When Earth’s superluminal drive altered the genes of the first interstellar colonists, Earth abandoned them. But the colonists survived, and now there is a new civilization among the stars, peopled by mental and physical “Variants”. Earth’s children have become alien to her.

In Terran space, orphan Jamisia Shido is guided by mysterious voices in her head. After a devastating attack on her station, she is forced to flee to the Variant worlds, where she must uncover the secrets locked within her own brain before those who destroyed her home can find her. In Variant space, a computer virus is killing the only pilots capable of guiding ships through deep space. Security expert Kio Masada must track down the source of the virus before all of Variant society collapses. And the key to doing that may lie hidden within the mind of a young Terran fugitive. 

Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse

By Frank Westerman,

Book cover of Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse: Man and Beast in an Age of Human Warfare

I thoroughly enjoyed reading nine of Westerman's books, some of them twice. This is literary contemporary history. Aside from a place, a period, and a prism through which to look, Frank combines award-winning literary skills with a journalistic journey. His stories are both big and small, personal and universal. Here he follows a fascinating 20th-century journey of the so-called ‘most pure’ horses of Europe. Through that story, you will find yourself cantering through the nature versus nurture debate that defined much of Europe’s recent history. On top of all that, I also recognise his journey through life, from his studies to ‘development’ work to foreign journalism to literary non-fiction writing on the big issues at the people & places interface. 


Who am I?

Walking the rims of remote crater lakes in Uganda to map a tiny piece of terra incognita was a big childhood dream coming true. I then went from a geography master to studies of conflicts, development & journalism. This brought me to the DRC, India, and Nepal, where I covered war, aid, and revolution. Since 2009 I combine professional environmentalism with freelance journalism, publishing books, and giving lectures. With a great global team of researchers and activists I co-created the largest database of environmental conflicts in the world, which doubled as fieldwork for my book Frontlines.


I wrote...

Frontlines: Stories of Global Environmental Justice

By Nick Meynen,

Book cover of Frontlines: Stories of Global Environmental Justice

What is my book about?

Every unpacked frontline is one cutting edge of an economic system and political ideology that is destroying life on earth. Revealing our ecosystems to be under a sustained attack, Nick Meynen finds causes for hope in unconventional places. Frontlines is a journalistic inside story of the global movement for environmental justice and how it is transforming the world. It is a call to action to join the resistance.

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, said that “This book harnesses the power of lived experience to bring our most urgent, high-stakes policy debates to life, and it deserves a wide international audience.”

Wither

By Lauren DeStefano,

Book cover of Wither

This one is totally different than the others on my list, but when I was diving into these related genres and finding myself more and more inspired by them, it was always a surprise and a treat to find a book that just completely defied all genre expectations. The book blends Sci-Fi with Fantasy, something I’ve always enjoyed if done well, and something that made me think maybe I could try my hand at this. I was never that great in science or math, even though I tried, but the idea that we could mix Sci-Fi with Fantasy, now that was intriguing. And throw in a little unexpected romance and I think you have a really well-rounded adventure. Humans are the root cause of the ending of the human race, so obviously humans have to undo what they’ve done, but your average person is just trying to survive the fallout.


Who am I?

I’m a writer who loves to read and wants to write all the fantasy genres, or at least, wants to try. I’ve always been fascinated by monsters and the question, “What if?” Dystopian, Apocalyptic, Post-Apocalyptic, and Fantasy gives us the freedom to explore both these things. It’s amazing how these genres can bend our world and expectation when we explore these two things. What if the world ended but not in the way we expect? What if monsters were real? What if we are the real monsters? These questions are terrifying but so fascinating to consider and blending fantasy with apocalyptic has been a safe way to explore them.


I wrote...

World of Ash: Book One in the Ash and Ruin Trilogy

By Shauna Granger,

Book cover of World of Ash: Book One in the Ash and Ruin Trilogy

What is my book about?

There are two inherent truths in the world: life as we know it is over, and monsters are real. The Pestas came in the night, spreading their pox, a deadly plague that decimated the population. Kat, one of the unlucky few who survived, is determined to get to her last living relative. When it mutates and becomes airborne, Kat is desperate to avoid people because staying alone might be her only chance to stay alive. That is, until she meets Dylan, with his easy smile and dark, curly hair with nowhere to go and no one to live for. The unlikely couple set off together through the barren wasteland to find a new life – survive the roaming Pestas, bands of wild, gun-toting children, and piles of burning, pox-ridden bodies.

Perfected

By Kate Jarvik Birch,

Book cover of Perfected

I enjoyed Perfected because it was a very, very soft and gentle take on dystopia where young girls are genetically engineered in labs and trained with special traits as young girls only to be sold to wealthy families as pets. They’re treated as puppies who are dressed in fancy clothes, paraded through events, sat on pretty couches and chairs, and very, very few make it through without being manipulated and used in worse ways. When she falls in love with her owner’s son, and he starts to fall for her, bad things happen. I love putting twists on dystopian worlds so this one was a brilliant, unusual concept that brought such a unique look into the genre and its possibilities and gave me permission to do the same.


Who am I?

I love dystopian stories because these are tales that could actually happen if a particular series of steps fall into place over the course of the next decade, century, etc. Dystopia is set in our real world, just in the future. There’s no unbelievable magic…just what our real world could be generations from now. The evolution or devolution of science, law, law enforcement, medicine, education, etc is fascinating to explore…especially since I’m an incredibly techy person. I love exploring what could happen in our future if we follow certain paths, good, bad, or otherwise. Asking “what if” is my favorite question.


I wrote...

Jaded

By K.M. Robinson,

Book cover of Jaded

What is my book about?

Her father started a rebellion when she was a child and was caught. They can’t publicly hurt him, but they can make his daughter, Jade, marry the Commander’s son when she turns 18, make the country believe they love her and accept her into the family and then murder her and make it look like an accident. Her only hope is to make her new husband fall in love with her for real. One chooses life, one chooses death…in the midst of chaos, only one will succeed.

Jurassic Park

By Michael Crichton,

Book cover of Jurassic Park

This is one of the few novels in my recent memory that is a real page-turner—and one of Crichton’s best. He combined innovative science with a unique story that eventually influenced Hollywood thrillers and is still at the forefront of pop culture today. Crichton was a Jurassic Renaissance Man, and his work continues to influence me as both a novelist and screenwriter.


Who am I?

Since childhood, I have immersed myself in sci-fi and thriller novels, many of which inspired me to write my first novel at age 13. When writing medical techno-thrillers, I think it is important to intertwine real-life technology and science with compelling stories and characters. I have published two novels—Double Crossed and Mind the Gap—and written several feature screenplays, television pilots, and non-fiction articles. I am a Juilliard-trained flutist and harpist now working in finance. 


I wrote...

Double Crossed

By F.F. Mormanni,

Book cover of Double Crossed

What is my book about?

After reading about unusual autopsy findings of a recently deceased U.S. senator, President Lewis recruits his childhood best friend, Ian Richards, to investigate what is soon revealed as an attempt to infiltrate the government through the use of medical and technological capabilities far beyond what is known to exist. This same death arouses the suspicions of Ross Blanchard, a relentless reporter, who avails himself of equally sophisticated technology in his own investigation. The intelligence community and Blanchard ultimately cooperate, culminating in a daring raid on a clandestine laboratory in the most unlikely of locations. But is this really the end of it?

Double Crossed recounts the intersection of cutting-edge military technology, genetics, and neurophysiology as it gradually exposes a plot of startling complexity and ambition.

Leviathan

By Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson (illustrator),

Book cover of Leviathan

With a vibrant steampunk setting that pits airships against fantastical creatures, Leviathan follows the story of Deryn Sharp, who joins the air service disguised as a male soldier. The second character we follow is a young prince disguised as a commoner, trying to flee the country Deryn is fighting. This is my favorite type of story, told in the same way as in my book: with tight points of view from drastically different characters on opposing sides of a war, who both have big secrets that could destroy them if the other finds out. Action-packed and daring, it was everything I’d hoped for when I picked it up.


Who am I?

As a nonbinary trans guy, I grew up obsessed with novels about women disguising themselves as men. I loved everything about the trope, and always felt disappointed when they had to go back to living as women. It is a trope I eagerly embraced when I wrote Shrouded Loyalties, and though I didn’t yet know the term “transgender,” I was already exploring my own gender identity through my reading and writing of this theme. The books I’ve chosen to highlight here are ones that became some of my very favorites, and also feature action-packed wartime settings like the one used in Shrouded Loyalties.


I wrote...

Shrouded Loyalties

By Reese Hogan,

Book cover of Shrouded Loyalties

What is my book about?

Naval officer Mila Blackwood is determined to keep her country’s most powerful secret – shrouding, the ability to traverse their planet in seconds through an alternate realm – out of enemy hands. But spies are everywhere: her submarine has been infiltrated by a Dhavnak agent, and her teenage brother has been seduced by an enemy soldier. When Blackwood’s submarine is attacked by a monster, she and fellow sailor, Holland, are marked with special abilities, whose manifestations could end the war – but in whose favor? Forced to submit to military scientists in her paranoid and war-torn home, Blackwood soon learns that the only people she can trust might also be the enemy.

Parasite

By Mira Grant,

Book cover of Parasite

Yes, I know this is a trilogy, but you can’t read one and not the others. In Parasite, scientists have created a, you guessed it, parasite that can cure most diseases. As a result, the majority of the world gets one implanted. This all goes terribly wrong when said parasites gain sentience and take over their host. This is more ‘during-apocalypse’ than ‘post-apocalypse,’ but it is a brilliant trilogy. My wife kept telling me to read it, and I’m so glad I listened to her.


Who am I?

Survivors was actually inspired by a video game, The Last of Us, but after discovering my love of post-apocalyptic stories via games I quickly moved on to books. There’s something freeing about these kinds of stories, to people who feel society can often be suffocating, it’s nice to imagine it burning down and something new and better rising from the ashes. My Survivors duology is the first of many books I hope. I’m a biomedical scientist in microbiology, and while these types of stories always require a certain suspension of disbelief, I’ve used some of my knowledge to create the world of Survivors. I hope you enjoy it! 


I wrote...

Survivors

By Amy Marsden,

Book cover of Survivors

What is my book about?

Survivors throws you in at the deep end as we follow a group of strangers struggling to survive in a world gone mad. A horrifying disease is made all the worse by the government’s lies, and people are wholly unprepared for the chaos that ensues when the virus breaks free of the quarantine zones. With points of view from the immune university student, the hardened solider, and the ex-teacher with a deadly secret, Survivors will keep you on the edge of your seat as the group of strangers fight for safety and their lives in a world bent on taking away both.

Read for found family, terrifying infected, and characters you can’t help but root for.

Double Helix

By Nancy Werlin,

Book cover of Double Helix

A young adult novel that is part thriller, part love story, and part family drama. I love all three! But a book steeped in Biotech? I wasn’t sure. When a friend recommended Double Helix, I took a chance and was pleasantly surprised. Eli “lucks” into a job at a biotech company which his father is vehemently against. He doesn’t say why, but Eli assumes it has to do with a dislike for Eli’s new boss and his mother’s medical condition (Huntington’s Disease). The job comes with a big salary and even bigger secrets. Note to Eli: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is! Although the story got a bit “techy” for me at times, it’s a page-turner with a solid plot and unexpected twists.  


Who am I?

The Complete Book of Aspen is based on my DNA experience. I was crushed after taking a DNA test to learn that the man who raised me was not my biological father. It rocked the foundation my life was built upon. Suddenly I was struggling with my identity, wondering why I am who I am. This led to a deep dive into DNA-related books. I read everything I could, from DNA science to memoirs to novels whose characters were affected by DNA discoveries. I liked seeing how these brave souls handled their heartbreak. Not only is the subject fascinating, but it’s also comforting to know, fictional or not, that we're never alone.


I wrote...

The Complete Book of Aspen

By Danna Smith,

Book cover of The Complete Book of Aspen

What is my book about?

When Aspen’s best friend gives her a DNA test kit, a half teaspoon of spit is all it takes to discover her entire life has been a lie.

Learning that her beloved late father was not her biological father—and that her mother had deceived her—ignites a wild storm of emotions. Aspen struggles with her identity and the burden of being the gatekeeper of this closely guarded family secret. When her mother refuses to reveal her biological father’s name, Aspen sets out on a courageous journey to find him. A heartbreakingly hopeful young adult novel-in-verse by award-winning author and poet, Danna Smith, based on her true DNA experience. 

Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley,

Book cover of Brave New World

One of these is not like the other. While this isn’t driven by a shaky narrator suffering from burnout or insomnia, addicted to drugs, or contemplating murder, this book was life-changing for me. I started reading it while commuting between California to New York City for work and it was the first time I’d ever felt compelled to write in a book. I can hear people gasping in disapproval, but I whipped out my pen and began to underline passages and comment in the margins on how the words applied to my life. There is so much profundity in a story where a single character begins to question everything around them. This is the book that made me realize we are all prisoners in an unlocked and unguarded cell. We are all prisoners of expectation—expectations from family, society, or ourselves. To this day, I can’t shake the philosophy gleaned from…


Who am I?

I’ve always been drawn to characters who are no longer on the edge but have stepped off and are halfway down the plummet—and while they’re falling through their trauma, they see the world’s darkness from an angle that translates into a beautiful kind of philosophy. People who have lived through hell have a perspective unlike those who have never struggled. The hell I lived through has given way to my own kind of philosophy and I let the darkness from my life come through my writing in streaks of light.


I wrote...

Tronick

By Rosie Record,

Book cover of Tronick

What is my book about?

Tronick is a visceral dive into the dystopia of tomorrow following an anti-hero through a world devastated by systemic corruption, religious extremism, and two opposing forces vying for control of California-Annex. Fiona Tronick is seen as a grungy pusher peddling shine and misinformation in back alleys, but she’s really a street operative and has always been loyal to her employer. So when a milky-eyed stranger hands her a briefcase of secrets and asks her if reality is real, she’s intrigued—but when she’s asked to execute that same messenger, she starts to question her employer’s motives and the role she’s playing in their game.

The Undying Tower

By Melissa Welliver,

Book cover of The Undying Tower

The Undying Tower brings a new flavour of sci-fi dystopian. Not only do we have an apocalyptic world-building itself from the ashes, but the world might not be as rudimentary as it first looks. In a landscape where a percentage of the population never ages, it presents interesting and unique challenges to those who do and those who do not. The blend of futuristic genetic modification, as well as dealing with mental health in the unique aspect of synesthesia, makes for a compelling and heart-felt read.


Who am I?

I've always been fascinated by genetics. Ever since Dolly the Sheep was cloned in the 1990s, I wondered if it was possible for it to have a soul, was it a carbon copy, did it know it had a twin? Move on to when I studied biology and then psychology. My brother became a genetic scientist, and we have both always been fascinated by the possibilities. Although the human genome project has been declared complete, there is still much we don’t know about genetics, let alone what we may harness from the animals around us. Although I'm excited to find out, I'm also fearful of how these modifications may be used.


I wrote...

The Unadjusteds: The Unadjusteds Book 1

By Marisa Noelle,

Book cover of The Unadjusteds: The Unadjusteds Book 1

What is my book about?

Sixteen-year-old Silver Melody lives in a world where 80% of the population has modified their DNA. When the president declares all unadjusteds must take a nanite, Silver has no choice but to flee the city with her father to prevent the extinction of the unadjusteds. Battling anxiety and panic attacks seem to be Silver’s worse obstacle while she is on the run, until her father is captured, and she comes face to face with a hellhound. Silver must band together with an unlikely group of friends and discover the secrets of her own genetic code.

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