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Charis Jones
CRISPR Evolution
Charis Jones, author

Brilliant geneticist Howard Wake has one life-defining dream: to advance human evolution, starting with his own kids. Under the radar of repressive agencies, he designs a tool to probe the darkest crypts in the human genome for buried treasure. But rousing ancient DNA is a risky undertaking. To create his children safely, Howard needs to enlist Jacqueline Witt, who has engineered her own secret. Before he can convince his friend and colleague to help him, Howard is forced to disappear into the science underground. Deciding it’s better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, he takes everything he needs with him. Eight years later, Howard’s kids are helping him run a garage lab—but federal agents are on their tail, the twins’ sleeping DNA is beginning to stir, and Jacqueline has tracked down the man who stole what she values most ... and she'll do anything to get it back.

Semi Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.25 out of 10


Plot/Idea: Set in a future world where biotechnology is closely monitored by the Federal Institute for Biomedical Research (FIBR), a geneticist and his family constantly shift locations to evade government surveillance. Jones explores the implications of genetic engineering in a layered and engrossing work of dystopian speculative fiction.

Prose: Prose is finely rendered and Jones shows a finesse for worldbuilding, gradually revealing the circumstances behind geneticist Howard Wake's experiment in the advancement of human evolution. Though at moments slow to develop, invested readers will relish the reading experience.

Originality: Jones crafts an unusual premise by focusing on a geneticist whose work has become prohibited. Jones displays clear knowledge of DNA and bio-genetics to craft a wholly convincing and well-informed narrative.

Character/Execution: Jones fills out a future world with convincing details and the science to support the concept. The characters' personal journeys and the moral dilemmas they grapple with offer a contemplative exploration of the interplay between science, ethics, and human nature. The tender relationship between Howard and his offspring also injects the story with heart.

Blurb: CRISPR Evolution is a striking work of speculative sci-fi that examines the ethical nuances of genetic engineering. 

Date Submitted: April 12, 2023

This gripping and accomplished debut novel imagines a near future where, after the initial jolts of a revolution in gene editing, the federal government centralizes biomedical research and development, and independent geneticists like Howard Wake go underground. A “garage biologist” already on the run, Wake conducts bold experiments in a portable lab with his children, who are assistants and subjects. Both are growing up with a “CRISPR machine” inside them, a protein of Howard’s own design, engineered “to make unpredictable improvements,” such as the gleaming, hair-like camouflaging appendages of eight-year-old daughter Aurie. But it’s not just “government goons” in Wake’s wake. As the family road-trips north to Maine and the presumed safety of Howard’s brother’s home, son Py begins to manifest mysterious—possibly dangerous—new abilities, and they’re pursued by someone with a pressingly personal connection.

Jones spins this heady story in smart, engaging prose, attuned to her casts’ individual perspectives, alive to the surprising details of an increasingly automated American future. The science is clear and persuasive—Jones is a biomedical researcher—but presented with an emphasis on its application. For all its family drama and on-the-run suspense, this is a novel about where we’re headed—and how we might not be able to control what changes. It’s a thriller but anchored in the literary wing of science fiction, driven by character, given to colloquies, and often evocative in its descriptions of diners and the mushrooms that, in a well-plotted jolt, prove essential to both the development of the story and our species.

Through it all, Jones is committed to capturing what this future feels like—and to dramatizing the evolutionary imperative with both exciting scenes and grand revelations of the sort readers of serious science fiction will find thrilling. The novel’s long, and its ambitions sometimes come at the expense of narrative momentum, but it’s also rousing, moving, and rewarding.

Takeaway: This superb science fiction novel finds a family on the run—and on the cusp of an evolutionary leap.

Great for fans of: Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A


CRISPR EVOLUTION by Charis Jones is a beautifully moving book centered around humanity’s relationship with genetic engineering.  With a headstrong and intelligent protagonist in Howard, the book follows the lives of a family of garage biologists in a future world where genetic engineering is severely limited and monitored by the government. Understandable scientific terminology is adroitly interwoven with an engaging plot as one unlikely family battles against tough odds for survival.

Kirkus Reviews

Jones’ debut SF novel sees a rogue geneticist on the run from government agencies as his illegally engineered twins reach a crisis point in their evolutionary programming. 

In the year 2050, the U.S. government centralized the funding of biomedical research and established a federal institute that focused on risk-free projects. Those working on the field’s cutting edge knuckled under, left the country, or went off-grid, operating illegally in makeshift laboratories. Gifted geneticist Howard Wake took the latter course, and by the year 2070, he has 8-year-old twins—Aurie and Py—incubated ex vivo using eggs stolen from colleague Jacqueline Witt. He’s implanted Py and Aurie with CRISPR, a virus engineered to quickly evolve the kids at a genomic level. Unbeknownst to Howard, the eggs’ special property—an embedded “kill switch,” designed to terminate pregnancies should embryos develop certain abnormalities—are in the twins’ DNA. Thus, the CRISPR evolutionary imperative is at odds with a safeguard that could kill Aurie and Py. A medical emergency pushes the Wake family into the open; on the run in New England, they seek refuge with Howard’s reclusive older brother, Abel. Jacqueline, meanwhile, discovers the theft of her eggs and tracks Howard down, determined to meet her biological children—one of whom is starting to become something beyond human. Over the course of this novel, Jones crafts a narrative that makes its concepts clear without belaboring the scientific aspects. Howard and Jacqueline are likable, deftly drawn characters, and Aurie and Py are similarly engaging—precocious, sometimes otherworldly, but still recognizably children. The society in which they live is a dark but believable extrapolation from present-day attitudes toward research funding, and the novel handles its moral questions sensitively and fairly throughout. It’s a testament to Jones’ skillful storytelling that readers may find themselves unsure how they want Aurie’s transformation to play out in the end. 


A tale that provides readers with a penetrating and thought-provoking glimpse into a possible not-so-distant future. 

Lily Andrews for Reader Views

A Sci-fi with strong cinematic framing that promises to reshape its genre

"CRISPR Evolution" is a heart-in-your-throat page-turner in the Sci-Fi genre by award-winning author Charis Jones. The narrative follows Howard Wake, a virtuoso in heredity and the variation of inherited characteristics in a futuristic world, who is determined to defy the government regulations and laws that have been put in place to tame genetic engineering that goes beyond the usual research scope.

There is something simultaneously fresh and traditional in the novel's comfort with omniscient narration, and its relaxed style manages to beguile new readers to speculative fiction. It conveys the spinning sense of a future that outstrips a single existence and feels synchronously optimistic, poignant, and even celebratory. With a stirring preface, Jones employs her years of experience as a research professor in this narrative, perhaps using it as a medium of choice to pass on an explosive panorama of what makes up our genetic formation.

"CRISPR Evolution" is a five-star read that provides conjectural ideation on genetic enhancement technologies, including their moral and civil implications through richly imagined characters and settings. The author is strong on atmosphere, illuminating vast tracts of imagery, and her uniquely supple and powerful style is even more clear-cut. Its enamoring ending and epilogue are decent and fulfilling, giving special send-offs to its characters. Wildly original and intelligently drawn, "CRISPR Evolution" will enthrall sci-fi fans.

Shrabastee Chakraborty for Readers' Favorite

This thoroughly engaging work of speculative fiction rejuvenated my love for science fiction. Set in the near future, it has a dystopian theme. FIBR closely monitors most of the ongoing biological research projects. The independently working scientists must flee underground, keeping themselves off FIBR’s radar. The beauty of the storyline is that, although imaginary, this scenario never seems far-fetched. Based on the issues the research community faces today, such a future seems all too plausible. Charis Jones shows how a combination of funding crunches, government intervention, and misinterpretation of results by the media could ultimately hinder scientific progress. At the same time, this thought-provoking story raises questions about the interplay of science and ethics. The characters are spellbinding, each shining in their own light and demanding center stage. As a brilliant and dedicated rogue scientist with a questionable sense of ethics, Dr. Howard Wake changed my outlook on a hero. 

While hardcore scientific facts form the book's foundation, Jones’ literary tweaks help it soar to unprecedented heights. I especially loved the visuals of a cell, with chromosome rafts and glittering hubs of gene transcription, the busy proteins, and enzymes having distinct personalities. In CRISPR Evolution, Jones recounts the beauty of life and imagines the unleashing of one’s full potential. I recommend it to those who appreciate science fiction. This story would be perfect for the fans of Michael Crichton’s Next.

17th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards Finalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Finalist in the 17th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards!

2022 Foreword INDIES Awards Finalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Finalist in the 2022 Foreword INDIES Awards! 

2022 Indies Today Awards Finalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Finalist in the 2022 Indies Today Awards! 

2023 American Book Fest Best Book Awards Finalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Finalist in the 2023 American Book Fest Best Book Awards!

2023 BookLife Prize Semifinalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Semifinalist in the 2023 BookLife Prize!

2023 Eric Hoffer First Horizon Award Finalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Finalist for the 2023 Eric Hoffer First Horizon Award! 

2023 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize Finalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Finalist for the 2023 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize!

2023 Eric Hoffer Sci-Fi/Fantasy Honorable Mention

"CRISPR Evolution" received an Honorable Mention in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy category of the 2023 Eric Hoffer Awards!

2023 Readers' Favorite Awards Finalist

"CRISPR Evolution" is a Finalist for the 2023 Readers' Favorite Awards!