Registered by synergy of San Antonio, Texas USA on 5/28/2007
1 journaler for this copy...
I was on a bit of science kick at the beginning of this year's books, it appears. After spending so much time the last couple of years reading non-fiction and a lot of "urban" fantasy, I've been trying to return to my sci-fi loving roots. Greg Bear is one of my go-to authors when I'm in a scifi mood, especially after I read his books Darwin's Radio and Darwin's Children. Plus he was a writer of one of the Isaac Asimov world's books, prequels to the Foundation series, and that's just a huge recommendation to me. He's known for writing fiction firmly grounded in actual science, gaining praise from science journal Nature for the Darwin series and is therefore often considered a "hard" scifi writer. This book includes the areas of molecular biology, genetics, microbiology, and I guess biochemistry. Here's the blurb from the back of the book:
Fueled by a wealth of research and the money of influential patrons, Hal Cousins combs the ocean depths for organisms that might lead him to the most sought-after discovery in human history: the key to short-circuiting the aging process. But he barely reaches the surface with his valuable samples when his world explodes in violence. Suddenly on the run for his life, Hal is trapped inside an ever-twisting maze of shocking revelations, including news that his identical twin brother, a fellow scientist working on the same research, has been brutally murdered. For Hal is not the first person to come close to solving the puzzle of aging - and those who came before him will stop at nothing to keep the secret to themselves. Now every person on earth is at risk of becoming an unsuspecting player in one man's spectacular and horrifying master plan.
I think I agree with a quote from the San Francisco Chronicle which says, "Think of [Vitals] as Michael Crichton meets Robert Ludlum, with a big scoop of The Manchurian Candidate thrown in for good measure." I think that describes this book exactly. It's hard for me to judge how interesting or demoralizing/boring this book would be to a non-science person, but although it does have a lot of science in it the subjects pose interesting questions. This is the best type of scifi for me. It's why I like the classic writers because they were usually men in the science field who were taking current science to the next level and asking questions about the direction of some science and the ethics (or lack thereof) in some of the science.
I don't think it would be much of a spoiler since it comes up about halfway through the book that others have worked on aging and have found out the same things Cousins has been suspecting for some time. Back in 1930s Soviet Union scientists found a form of human immortality in some ancient species, but while they were in there tinkering around with extracting and purifying enzymes, they came across an ancient bacteria with some sort of primitive immune system that could produce any substance fed to it. Back then the USSR was more interested in controlling the masses, so something useful toward that end was more helpful to the people paying the bills. What they did was take the genes from those old bacteria, stuck them into hardy strains of E. coli which is present in everyone's gut, and spread the bacteria around to the population. Then when they wanted someone to do something they were exposed to a substance that would cause the reprogrammed bacteria in their gut to kick out certain substances that, voila, caused mind alteration.
I know, it's convoluted, but amazing. If you stop and think about it, it would be genius. Bacteria is everywhere, no matter how much we try to make it into a bad guy and eradicate it. However, we need bacteria because without it we'd die. Micro organisms have been shown to effect our health and recently it's been found that protozoans we get from cats, Toxoplasma, has been associated with a higher incidence of schizophrenia. Or speaking of Toxoplasma, some studies show that it may alter rat behavior so it's more likely to be captured/eaten by a cat, the protist's preferred host. With the possibility of at least one very common protist like Toxoplasma showing the ability to affect levels of neurotransmitters, it's not that much of a leap to believe that bacteria can be reprogrammed to make you and I puppets to our government masters. :)
About my only beef with this story is that it hopped around between time spans and there were a good number of characters, so between trying to keep up with the speculative science and flipping time and characters, it did get confusing at times. I don't know if I really got to know the main characters, but in a way I didn't find them as interesting as the science fiction.