The 16th fiction book published by Sebastian Faulks landed in bookstores last month. When I say “fiction book”, that is not a unanimous view even though it is how the author has presented it. In the opinion of the reviewer in The Guardian, Faulks’ latest offering, The Seventh Son (its cover is shown on the home page), is “at times a work of non-fiction masquerading as a novel”. Ouch!

It is set in four sections, all in the future: 2030, 2031, 2047 and 2056. It begins with a 26-year-old American academic, Talissa Adam. To raise the money she so desperately needs in order to carry on funding her studies, she agrees to make a first-ever trip to the UK to take part in a trial run in London by the Parn Institute which will involve her being a surrogate mother for the child which Alaric and Mary Pedersen cannot conceive naturally. She duly goes through the process, but the process is far from proper. Unbeknown to her or the prospective parents, Alaric’s sperm sample is switched on the orders of the clinic’s famous but wholly sinister founder, the billionaire, Lukas Parn. The baby Talissa carries, later to be named Seth, is in fact the produce of a Neanderthal.

“She found a place to stay in Muswell Hill. It was on the top floor of a terraced house that belonged to a Mrs K. Gopal’…thus Talissa Adam arrived in London in 2030

Under the terms of the surrogacy, Talissa has to wait 12 years to see Alaric and Mary again. Also Seth. She is a little unsettled by the experience of meeting him and later, via a lock of Seth’s hair that Mary has given her and with the help of a DNA expert, she realises Alaric is not the father. A little later still, she finds out that this was not caused by an error at the clinic; it was part of a maverick experiment in genetic engineering.

The point made by the writer in The Guardian is not devoid of merit. There are significant chunks of the book which read like part of a thesis on either genetics or the development of mankind. Or both. Seth’s heritage gives him an acute sense of the presence of others not ordinarily found in most humans. He also has a special empathy with animals, which comes in handy when he gets interested in horse racing. But, of course, there is a downside, an enormous one, especially when his story attracts ultra-tabloid interest and an organisation called Vector starts spreading the word about “human purity” and “alien contamination”. Seth is in the awful situation of being a human-like ET. Talissa is determined to save him from his past.

The book’s title arises from the fact that Seth’s anonymous identity under the insemination programme was ‘No 7′. It maybe that Faulks’ target in the book – his ‘inspiration’ for the character of Lukas Parn, if you like – is not so hard to find out. At one point Talissa rages to one Parn employee who has just realised what has occurred: “Artificial intelligence…Solar-powered spaceships…Immortality…All that big dickery…The money means they live by other rules. Not the law. Then they say it’s for the good of humankind. Dear God.”

It’s not for me to insist Faulks is referring to the owner of Twitter/X but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions…