I’m not, generally speaking, a huge fan of the graphic novel. Being more verbal than visual by nature, I prefer to imagine my characters, but I can’t deny the draw for children – especially those who are emergent readers. Anything that gets kids making the link between story and books has got to be good, and David Follet’s Uncle Silas: Genetis is about as fun, lighthearted, and sumptuously illustrated as it gets.
Selena and Tommy are siblings who are close to their slightly loopy scientist uncle Silas Mortimer Mulch. When they respond to his call to come and see a surprise, they are greeted by his organic computer Sofia, who tells them that their uncle is in danger and that they must save him. As they get be-suited and sucked into the greenhouse, they find a welter of self-propagating plants and other fascinating life forms that raise a number of scientific questions about how we define life, how we determine individuality, and what humanity’s relationship is with the natural world. The kids also find new strength within themselves as they grow into the challenge (in more ways than one) and save both their uncle and the computer.
There’s a definite Avatar feeling to the greenhouse, as the suits that Selena and Tommy wear protect and support them, while connecting with Sofia. In order to find out critical information about the environment they find themselves in, the siblings have to go to the fungi for a reading to find out more about the greenhouse and their uncle. Silas’s work involves splicing DNA with electrometers and nanotechnology in order to speed up the growth factors of his plants, but there’s plenty in there that he doesn’t understand. From a Science Fiction perspective, Follet has quite a few threads running through this about humanities relationship with the environment, and Uncle Silas himself is an interesting and evocative character who hints at more than is revealed in this book. Where will it end up? What will happen to the greenhouse? What about Sofia? (the whole notion of an ‘organic’ computer is intruiging). Obviously there will have to be a sequel.
Uncle Silas: Genetis moves very quickly through the story – perhaps a little too quickly, though children won’t mind the pace — and is illustrated throughout with fantastic, vivid colours, dramatic images, and powerful, superhero styled characterisation. I particularly like the cute little “green man” styled son – there are definitely some philosophical questions that he raises, and I’ll be waiting anxiously for the sequel to find out what happens with him, and whether the paternal instinct can override the natural sense of difference/separateness between man and plant. Young children will read it quickly, taking it at face value and enjoying the suspense, the adventure, and the gorgeous illustrations. Older children and adults may well ponder the questions it raises.