The novels of Melvin Burgess can be readily subsumed under a version of postmodern relativism, but two of his most challenging works, Bloodtide (1999) and Bloodsong (2005), in practice embody a deep concern with the questions of the nature of humanity and of ethical subjectivity in a universe that is depicted simultaneously as utterly relativist and entirely determined. An imagined world in which humans and animals are readily genetically modified and mingled poses ethical problems from both scientific and humanistic angles, as the epigraphs to this chapter suggest. Although Sigurd has been genetically augmented and designed for a purpose, he is not merely a tool but a human subject capable of emotions and feelings. His first encounter with Bryony (epigraph 1) affirms that humanity is precious beyond anything that can be ‘made up’, that is, invented by genetic engineering or narrative fiction. As each of the two novels in Burgess’s Volson-saga plays out its disastrous conclusion, the central paradox is expressed in clear narrative Robyn McCallum and John Stephens 99 900 Dystopian Worlds and Ethical Subjectivities form. What space exists in human lives for free will and agency in a world apparently shaped by capricious divinities? Can there be an ethically based behaviour if every act is predetermined by all-powerful beings which humans may not even believe in? Is free will possible? Can it be said that human beings have any real ethical choice and can be held accountable for what they do, even if ‘the gods’ turn out to be no more than a metaphor for human fears and desires?
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