Quick Pick: This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

Rouge People and Civilized Code in Emily Suvada’s This Mortal Coil

By Hannah Carmack, Creative Content Coordinator

This Mortal Coil Book Cover

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!