Contains mild spoilers.
The Chosen Twelve tells the story of the last of humanity. Deep in space, in an ancient colony ship on a moon orbiting the planet Dion, twenty two twelve-year-old children are all that remain of the human race. The children, who thanks to the manipulations of the machines that ‘care’ for them, have been twelve for almost sixty years, their physical ageing paused as they’re trained to one day land on the planet below and build a civilisation.
Their guardian, Edubot, has been happy to teach them advance degrees and accademic subjects for decades, allowing the children to practice their future task in simulations that often end in chaos as they have their people start strange religions, ride around on unicycles, and release weird plagues on each other. The children are used to this strange life, and despite having little real freedom they’re happy with their lot.
This all changes, however, when another AI arrives, one who is determined to use the humans to mine the planet for resources to help spread artificial life into the galaxy, and he wants them to begin soon. The only problem is, the ship they’ll be using to travel to Dion only has twelve seats. Now the children are being forced to prove they have what it takes to restart the human race and survive on this hostile world, or risk being left behind to age and die in the cold of space.
The Chosen Twelve is a story that does a good job at hiding the stakes. When the story begins we meet one of our twenty two children, Gamma, as he tries to reach a vending machine where he believes god lives inside, but he has to get past a murderous automatic door in order to do so. To begin with things seem very weird, and the book has this odd sense of things not being quite right, and almost bordering on silly. But after a while you begin to see that this is because our protagonists, despite having been alive for more than sixty years, are a bunch of children, and as such we see this dark, brutal future through the eyes of these immature beings.
To begin with the book manages to walk this fine line between the serious and the bizarre, and thanks to the children being given free reign to explore their creativity in their simulations and pursue whatever course of action they choose we get things like war elephants with diarrhoea, or a planet where there must be a sanctuary for geese. It feels close to the weirdness of something like a Douglas Adams book; but this doesn’t last.
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As the story progresses a darkness begins to creep into things. At first there are hints that this isn’t the jovial, weird world that these kids seem to see it as, as Gamma learns when the murderous door very nearly succeeds in killing him in a painful, brutal way. But it’s only when SCASL, the chief AI arrives that the underlying darkness is revealed. His single-minded goal of using the humans for his own ends, despite the pain it will cause them allows him to push these children in brutal ways; and the bonds between them are soon tested as they begin to compete against each other for their place on the ship.
These twenty two children who have only ever had each other for their entire lives start out treating it like a game, competing to see who’s the best, but it soon devolves into a desperate fight to survive. Alliances are formed and broken, old wounds are reopened, and violence breaks out. The blurb for the book describes this as being The Hunger Games meets Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, but there’s also a lot of Lord of the Flies mixed in there too, as we see tribalism spread through the group as factions begin to form as things get desperate, leading to a book that becomes surprisingly brutal compared to how it first begins.
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When I began reading The Chosen Twelve I was worried that it was going to be a bit too weird for me, that it would veer too much into the ‘wacky’ territory for me to really get invested, but by the end I was on the edge of my seat as I wanted the character I cared about to survive, as I saw friendships fall apart, and death came to this small group of humans. By the time things came to a close I was even a little angry that the book ended where it did, because I was desperate to find out what happened next, and would have been happy to stay with these characters for even longer.
I don’t know what I expected from reading the description of this book, but by the end I’d had a journey into a very different future, one that felt unique and different to a lot of other books I’d read. This would have been an interesting story with any kind of protagonists, but putting young children at the heart of it made this feel like a very different kind of survival story; one that absolutely sucked me in. If you’re looking for science fiction that feels very different this is a book that is very much worth reading, and one that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
The Chosen Twelve is out on 18th January from Rebellion Publishing.