The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee

thethousandthflooruk

I’ve read a few reviews of this book and they go one of two ways depending more or less on the age of the reviewer. Younger reviewers – teenage girls, the target demographic, love it. The worldbuilding is nothing they’ve ever seen before and the characters have such great lives and what’s going on between them all is so exciting. Adults aren’t so keen on it. There are huge gaps in the worldbuilding and the characters are all tedious rich teenagers with Rich People Problems and extravagant dresses.

I picked up The Thousandth Floor on a whim, while looking round idly for something to catch my eye and the reason this one did is that two days previously, I’d stumbled across the X-Seed 4000, the world’s tallest building to be fully envisaged. That is, the plans have been made and this thing could be built tomorrow, if we had the technology. It’s a tower two and a half miles high which could home up to a million people. In other words, it’s the tower from the book, except that I don’t think the author’s ever heard of the X-Seed 4000. The book’s set in about a century’s time and I’d like to think that by then, maybe we’d have the ability to actually built it. So I’m quite happy to go with the futuristic tower these kids live in as being a viable thing.

It’s also trying to have a touch of the Ballard about it. I read High Rise earlier in the year and there’s the same premise here. The more money you have, the higher up the tower you live. In High Rise, everyone’s rich, so it’s the mega-rich vs the plain rich. In The Thousandth Floor, it’s the mega-rich vs the really poor. The lower floor apartments are cramped and mouldy and dark and the people there live more or less in squalor. But whereas High Rise used that to almost apocalyptic effect, The Thousandth Floor… well, barely uses it at all. Some of the poorer people work at the various upmarket hotels, spas, bars and restaurants the rich people use but it’s literally only Mariel and Eris who bring up the subject at all. It’s as if these people don’t live in the same world, let alone the same building.

The kids. Well, they’re all teenagers. I’m a Senior Section leader – that’s girls in the UK aged 14-25 and I love them but the drama in their lives is so serious to them and so trivial to me. That’s what it’s like reading The Thousandth Floor. Teenagers who don’t realise that most of their teenage love life will be barely a distant memory by the time they’re twenty-five. If you’re a teenager, you’ll probably love the antics of Avery, Atlas, Leda, Eris, Cord, Rylin, Watt and co. I read it with some of the affectionate head-shaking I feel about my Rangers.

Let’s get on with the spoilers and talk about the elephant in the room.

Avery Fuller has been genetically engineered to be perfect. Scientists dug through her parents’ DNA and pulled out all the beautiful and clever and special recessive genes hiding deep within them and used them to make Avery. They then realised she was lonely and adopted a brother for her. And the two of them are in love.

Reviewers, on the whole, don’t like this. The first mention of it was enough for plenty of them to close the book and never return to it. After all, incest is still a taboo in most of our cultures. Incidentally, a lot of them refer to Avery and Atlas as “half siblings” or “step siblings”. They’re not. They’re adopted siblings.

It’s still incest, even if they don’t actually share any DNA. They’re still brother and sister, they still grew up together. But this is a story about melodramatic teenagers, it’s not instructions in how to live your own life. You don’t have to condone it to find it interesting. I’m in two minds about it. It’s still two rich beautiful teenagers making too much drama over who they like. But it’s also an element that separates it from all the other tedious relationship dramas – that there is a genuine socially-acceptable line they can’t cross. It’s marginally more interesting than Avery being obsessed with the boy across the hall who she’s seen every day since she was born. It’s a cheap novelty factor.

If you can cope with incest and you enjoy the scandals of rich teenagers’ lives, the expensive clothes they all wear or the concept of the tower, you’ll probably like this book. Otherwise, it’s probably not for you.

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