Rouge People and Civilized Code in Emily Suvada’s This Mortal Coil
By Hannah Carmack, Creative Content Coordinator
We were just recovering from the crazy awesomeness that was FEED: The STEM Read Experience when a teacher approached us, eager to talk about a new book that we hadto cover. The book was This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada. Let me say that even with the educator’s convincing pitch and the novel’s well-received kirkus review, I still wasn’t prepared for what This Mortal Coil dished out.
The story takes place in a dystopian future where all humans are born with a supercomputer built into one of their arms. The supercomputers allow their users to change the way they look and see the world through a genetic computer code. The only problem? Almost everyone has been forced to live in underground bunkers because of a nasty plague that is killing humans on the surface. It seems like the perfect set-up for a STEAM-y book.
That said, This Mortal Coil is so much more. Our main character, Cat, is a genetic hacker, capable of curing illness and causing destruction with a single line of code. She lives the “normal” life of a surface dweller and spends her days fighting for her life and eating human flesh in order to gain immunity from the plague- Now that was a fun reversal of the zombie trope. Her life changes when a secret agent named Cole- who is essentially a walking, talking top secret document- enters her life and says that Cat is the only one capable of curing the plague. End-of-the-world hijinx ensue.
Overall, the STEM in this book is amazing. Suvada is a real-world coder and she provides an abundance of scientific backing in her fictional world. Some possible classroom activities educators could use are (spoilers abound!):
- Code your own poem like the one Cat decodes in the AI-Pigeons. Have your students pick a famous poem or write their own. Then translate it to a code like binary or a cipher like the Cesar cipher.
- One of the biggest worries in the book is inhaling infected air when a plague victim is around. Have your students engineer a possible solution for air contamination.
- The cure for the plague is hidden not in one genetic panel, but three. Have your students create cryptology puzzles that build off one another to uncover a secret code or answer.
- There are pros and cons for civilians who retreat into government-sanctioned bunkers during the plague time. Have your students do a mock ethics panel in which they discuss why people should/or should not hide in the bunkers.
If you just can’t get enough of Suvada’s fast-paced and action packed writing, keep your eyes peeled for the next book in the Mortal Coil series, This Cruel Design, set for release October 30!