New release book review: SLEEP DONATION by Karen Russell

ScienceThrillers.com book review of SLEEP DONATION science fiction novella by Karen Russell.

sleep-donation_custom-96df7c79f083052c949c038dc4627cd1a311d5b2-s6-c30BlueStar4

Publication date: March 25, 2014
Category: literary science fiction novella
Tech rating (out of 5):

Biohazard3

Summary (from the publisher):

From the author of the New York Times bestseller Swamplandia!, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, an imaginative and haunting novella about an insomnia epidemic set in the near future.

A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps’ reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor, and the mysterious “Donor Y.”

Sleep Donation explores a world facing the end of sleep as we know it, where “Night Worlds” offer black market remedies to the desperate and sleep deprived, and where even the act of making a gift is not as simple as it appears.

Sleep Donation is an ebook-only novella (“Kindle Single”) that has received a disproportionate amount of media attention, including a full-length feature on NPR. I didn’t hear the NPR interview but somebody told somebody who told me the basic premise of this story, and I had to read it.

I don’t know if authors like Karen Russell get insulted when their work is categorized as science fiction (a genre ghetto, gasp!), but I see no other way to categorize this story. It’s literary in form but 100% science fiction in content.

Some aspects of this story (I won’t say book–it’s about 1/3 the length of a typical novel) are brilliant. Enough aspects, in fact, to compensate for the anemic plot and ending. I’m glad I bought and read Sleep Donation and I think most ScienceThrillers.com readers would like it too. Here is what you need to know to decide:

The science fiction premise of Sleep Donation is terrific and it kept me hooked throughout. Put simply, the author took the entire real-life set up of blood transfusions (the critical need, the ethics of donation, matching types, screening donors and the possibility of contagion) and switched it to sleep. In the story’s alternate US, an epidemic of sleeplessness is killing people. They’ve found a way to collect REM sleep from donors but there are various problems with the supply. Author Karen Russell uses accurate parallels from the early years of the AIDS epidemic to complicate matters in the sleep donation tale. Her portrayal of the epidemiology, sleep collection infrastructure, and mass hysteria of the public are spot-on.

Because the social universe Russell created is deep and well-thought out, she is able to touch on a number of interesting and thought-provoking social issues related to health and disease, waking and sleeping, social good vs individual benefit.

The problems? Although this novella is longer than a “short story,” it conforms to many of the norms of literary short stories–and some of those norms are kind of irritating to genre fiction fans. For example, there is often a pretentiousness of both language and plot. Here, Russell displays her writing talent with language that is 90% intelligent and only about 10% needlessly showy.  I’m fine with words like “avuncular” and “empirical” and “credulity” but when I got to “nacreous,” that was a bit much. Most of Russell’s poetic constructions hit the mark of being descriptive but not too flowery. Some of her clever sentences, however, merely draw attention to themselves.

The bigger problem with Sleep Donation is plot development. After building a compelling and totally believable world in the first part of the story, the plot later wanders to an ending that is incomplete and unsatisfying. Aspects of character and future plot developments are hinted at but not developed. A lengthy sequence near the end of the story unfolds between the protagonist Trish and Mr. Harkonnen, Baby A’s father. The two wander through the Night World and share a series of minor experiences that appear to be fraught with significance or symbolism but honestly the meaning escaped me and the whole thing seemed bizarre.

Despite these flaws, I recommend Sleep Donation on the strength of the imaginative, fully realized SF premise which is more than enough to carry the brief length of the tale.

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Guest post: Janie Chodosh, author of YA science mystery DEATH SPIRAL

ScienceThrillers.com welcomes author Janie Chodosh in a guest post to discuss the science behind her debut young adult science mystery Death Spiral. (Click for ScienceThrillers review of the novel.)

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Guest post by author Janie Chodosh

One night in my former life as a middle-school biology teacher, my husband, a geneticist, and I sat down to watch a documentary on the human genome project. Two hours and three billion base pairs later what I found most compelling about the cracking of the human genetic code was now that the sequence of our A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s had been decoded, we had the ability to look inside our biological makeup, to read our genetic destiny. Was this a good idea? And what about the fact that companies could patent the genes they discovered? (This was before the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that said companies cannot patent genes, stating that DNA is “a product of nature and not patent-eligible merely because it has been isolated.”) The contemporary medical and ethical questions stemming from the ability to read our genetic code cross-pollinated with the concept of companies holding genetic information captive, and thus my genetics-based, young-adult mystery, Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery, was born.

Once I got the idea I started studying. I read genetics books. My husband drew diagrams. We stayed up late discussing things like antisense RNA and adenoviruses and DNA polymerase, and then I pared what I had learned down to a few sentences. A few sentences a teenager would speak, and not just any teenager— a distrustful, in your face, fearless sort of teen. A teen who, over the course of 300 pages, would take on PhDs, biopharmaceutical rogues, and drug dealers. I wanted real science, real questions, and real issues that the age of personal genomic medicine has brought upon us.

From the opening pages of Death Spiral my protagonist, Faith, the sixteen-year-old daughter of a recently deceased junkie, fights to uncover the actual cause of her mom’s death, which everyone believes to be from a heroin overdose. In pursuing the truth, Faith finds herself ensnared in a world of corrupt scientists and academics who ignore the Hippocratic oath and use the advances in genetic technologies for their own dishonorable purposes.

While the mystery of her mom’s death is the front story and the action of the novel, Faith, in a very personal way, finds herself pulled into the ethical, societal, and personal questions regarding genetic testing. I became interested in the implications for genetic testing and personalized medicine. To test or not to test, that is the question. Discovering you have the gene for breast cancer can save your life; discovering you have the gene for Huntington’s disease, cannot. The crux of the matter is knowledge: how much do we want? Teens like Faith and her sidekick/maybe love interest, Jesse, will someday live in a world where things we have not yet dreamed possible, will come to scientific fruition. As today’s young-adult readers ride the wave of adolescence and find their place in the world, “Who am I?” becomes a literal question not just of personal identity, but of the personal arrangement of one’s A’s,T’s,C’s and G’s.

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New release YA book review: DEATH SPIRAL by Janie Chodosh

ScienceThrillers.com review of Death Spiral by Janie Chodosh

BlueStar4

(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)

Publication date: April 1, 2014
Category: YA mystery / science thriller
Tech rating (out of 5):

Biohazard3

Summary (from the publisher):

Life is tough when you have a junkie for a mom. But when sixteen-year-old Faith Flores—scientist wannabe, loner, new girl in town—finds her mom dead on the bathroom floor, she refuses to believe her mom really OD’d. But the cops have closed the case and her Aunt T, with whom she now lives in the Philly ‘burbs, wants Faith to let go and move on.

But a note from Melinda, her mom’s junkie friend, leads Faith to a seedy downtown methadone clinic. Were her mom and Melinda trying to get clean?

When Melinda dies of an overdose, Faith tracks down the scientists behind the trial running at the methadone clinic. Soon she’s cutting school and lying to everyone—her aunt, her best friend, even the cops. Everyone, that is, except the strangely alluring Jesse, who believes the “real” education’s on the street and whose in-your-face honesty threatens to invade Faith’s self-imposed “no-dating” rule. A drug-dealer named Rat-Catcher warns Faith to back off, but it doesn’t stop Faith from confronting a genetics professor with a guilty conscience. When the medical examiner’s body winds up in the Schuylkill River, Faith realizes if she doesn’t act fast, she may be the next body in the morgue. Can Faith stop this deal gone bad from taking a sharp turn for the worse?

ScienceThrillers Review:

It’s a special event for me when a new young adult science thriller comes to my attention, because these books are rare. (Are you writing one? ScienceThrillers Media might like to publish it.)

Death Spiral: A Faith Flores Science Mystery made my day when I heard about it, and I was not disappointed in the reading. Set in Philadelphia, Death Spiral features a tortured but believable protagonist, sixteen-year-old Faith Flores, whose dogged pursuit of the truth about her mother’s death puts her on somebody’s hit list. I’m not a regular reader of YA fiction, but this novel seems to do a good job with teen dialogue (not hitting you over the head with slang). The usual teen-centric themes of ‘belonging’ and ‘becoming’ run strong in the story.

Author Janie Chodosh passes the science test. Death Spiral is a mystery that can only be solved by getting answers to the science questions. I love that. Chodosh handles the science gently but accurately so readers should not be put off by tech. The science revolves around a clinical trial for treating heroin addiction. Antisense RNA, gene therapy, and genome sequencing are all relevant. In a nice touch, the author brings up issues related to genetic testing. What happens if you know you’re at risk for a genetic disease? Would you want to know?

The story’s climax is set in the most delightfully unconventional place: the ballroom of a major science conference during a keynote address. I loved that this seemingly dull setting was charged with excitement. In this scene, the sharing of scientific information takes on paramount importance. The scientific logic of the criminal, as it is finally revealed, makes sense on paper so I was satisfied. But in practice, the scheme would be needlessly complex and impractical to achieve the bad guy’s goals…

A few minor complaints: One of Faith’s defining characteristics is the way she shuts down her feelings and locks other people out. While this makes sense given her past, it does become grating at times; the reader wants to shake some sense into her as she self-inflicts wounds on her relationships. A minor character experiences an unbelievable recovery toward the end of the story, but this didn’t matter much. I also think the title doesn’t do this book any favors. It’s bland.

Clinical trials are experiments, but I wouldn’t describe enrollees as being “experimented on.” But this is a thriller/mystery novel so no surprise to find some big bad pharma and a “mad” scientist. The scientist and physician characters, of which there are several, are, as in real life, a diverse bunch of people, good, bad, well-intentioned, conflicted, and everything in between.

Faith Flores would fit right in. This reader was touched by Faith’s solid sense of self and is rooting for her and for millions of real-life teens to take the plunge and pursue the study of science.

A lovely quote from the text: “Sadness, with an atomic mass heavier than plutonium, settles in my chest.”

Unusual words or phrases: methadone clinic; antisense RNA; medical examiner; DNA sequence; inherited risk; genetic disease; idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; heroin addiction; PluraGen; vector

Parent alert: some profanity. Unlike Double Helix, a similar book by Nancy Werlin, no sex in Death Spiral.

*****

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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Giveaway CODE WHITE medical thriller

One year ago I reviewed Code White, a page-turning medical thriller by an MD/PhD debut author Scott Britz-Cunningham. (ScienceThrillers review of Code White) Dr. Britz-Cunningham is now offering THREE copies of his book to lucky winners of a ScienceThrillers.com giveaway! Enter with your email address to win.

Ali O’Day, a dedicated young neurosurgeon, might have a Nobel Prize in her future—if she can survive the next eleven hours.

Under the glare of live television cameras—and with her lover, Dr. Richard Helvelius, and her estranged husband, Kevin, both looking on—Ali is about to implant a revolutionary mini-computer into the brain of a blind boy. If it works, he will see again. But someone wants to stop her triumph. No sooner has she begun to operate than the hospital pagers crackle with the chilling announcement, “CODE WHITE.” A bomb has been found in the medical center.

But this is no ordinary bomb—and no ordinary bomber. As minutes tick off toward the deadline, Ali suspects that a vast, inhuman intellect lies behind the plot—and that she herself may be the true ransom demand.

a Rafflecopter giveaway CODE WHITE

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SciThri new releases: March 2014

This month’s roundup of newly-released, or new to me, indie science & medical thrillers.  These books are among the many I don’t have time to read and review, but genre fans might enjoy.

If you are an author or publicist and would like your book listed, contact me with title, author, release date, weblinks, and summary. Only books with scientific or medical themes or characters will be included. Ask me about hosting a giveaway raffle on your behalf.

SciThri New (or new to me) Releases:

(Bonus this month: BOOK GIVEAWAY RAFFLES!)

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White Gold by Rachel Amphlett. Indie science thriller.

A conspiracy that will end alternative energy research; an organisation killing to protect its interests – and a bomb that will change the face of terrorism…

When Sarah Edgewater’s ex-husband is murdered by a radical organisation hell-bent on protecting their assets, she turns to Dan Taylor – geologist, ex-soldier, and lost cause. Together, they must unravel the research notes that Sarah’s ex-husband left behind to locate an explosive device that is circumnavigating the globe towards the London 2012 Olympics – and time is running out.

In an fast-paced ecological thriller that spans the globe, from London to Brisbane and back via the Arctic Circle, Dan and Sarah aren’t just chasing the truth – they’re chasing a bomb that, if detonated, will change the future of alternative energy research and the centre of England’s capital forever.

a Rafflecopter giveaway WHITE GOLD
Bluecoat Book One (The Bluecoat Trilogy) by Jacob Fever. Indie YA technothriller (2014).

James Bluecoat, a young British hacker, is plagued by strange visions which haunt his dreams and hint at a mysterious destiny. Caught red-handed with US military designs, he is sent to PROPS, a top secret research facility where a handful of tech criminals are trained for active duty. Here James meets Rebecca Kent, a committed hacktivist with secrets of her own and a burning desire to escape. As their relationship grows, dark forces are already at work, plotting the pair’s ultimate destruction. And once this attack is underway, the two of them are forced headlong into a deadly race against time. The first volume in a trilogy, Bluecoat Book One is an explosive YA thrill-ride taking in the mountains of North Carolina, the frozen wastes of the South Atlantic, the wilds of Ireland, and the streets of Washington DC.

The True Virus: Thriller Novel by Charles Vrooman. Indie technothriller (2014).

This story takes place during the last Gaza/Israeli war. It starts out with a hacking incident involving the main CIA computer. After this breach in security, John Brookfield a CIA computer specialist, travels to Israel to work with Sarah Stein the Co-developer of DNA computer technology to find out if the DNA component of the CIA system has been compromised. John is shocked when the cell phone of a fellow CIA agent in Israel is hit by a bullet and explodes in his hand. Soon after an epidemic breaks out and the agent dies. With Sarah’s help, John discovers that a Hamas bioterrorist is the hacker who programmed the CIA’s system to produce the real live virus that caused the epidemic.

a Rafflecopter giveaway THE TRUE VIRUS

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Do you enjoy thrillers with real science? Read Petroplague by Dr. Amy Rogers. Oil-eating bacteria contaminate the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyze the city. “Compellingly written, technically literate” “top 5 on my best of 2011 list” “the science is utterly believable” “I couldn’t put this one down”

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RedDevil 4 by Eric C. Leuthardt

***Enter to win a copy of this new release below!***

The Singularity/transhumanism trend in thriller fiction is now in full swing. I’ve reviewed several such books lately (Mind’s Eye, Singularity, Extinction, to name a few) and many others have crossed my desk.

reddevilRedDevil 4, a new hardcover release from major publisher Forge books, fits this hot new science thriller subgenre that dances on the edge of science fiction because most of these books are set in the near future. The authors all envision the arrival of technology that will allow us to alter the human brain and nervous system, and add computer elements to the biological ones.

Debut author Dr. Eric C. Leuthardt is better placed than most to get the science right. He is a neurosurgeon and biomedical engineer as well as a recognized pioneer in neuroprosthetics. He is widely published in scientific journals and is the director of the Center for Innovation in Neuroscience and Technology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where he researches brain-computer interfaces. As an alumna of that outstanding medical school, I have to spread the word about his new book, which is also set in St. Louis.

RedDevil 4 by Eric C. Leuthardt. Near-future neuroscience thriller / mystery (2014). Summary from the publisher:

RedDevil 4 is spine-tingling techno-thriller based on cutting edge research from surgeon and inventor Eric C. Leuthardt.

Renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Hagan Maerici is on the verge of a breakthrough in artificial intelligence that could change the way we think about human consciousness. Obsessed with his job and struggling to save his marriage, Dr. Maerici is forced to put his life’s work on the line when a rash of brutal murders strikes St. Louis.

Edwin Krantz, an aging, technophobic detective, and his partner, Tara Dezner, are tasked with investigating the horrifying killings. Shockingly, the murders have all been committed by prominent citizens who have no obvious motives or history of violence. Seeking an explanation for the suspects’ strange behavior, Krantz and Denzer turn to Dr. Maerici, who believes that the answer lies within the killers’ brains themselves. Someone is introducing a glitch into the in-brain computer systems of the suspects—a virus that turns ordinary citizens into murderers. With time running out, this trio of unlikely allies must face a gauntlet of obstacles, both human and A.I., as they attempt to avert disaster.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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New release book review: AMOEBA IN THE ROOM by Nicholas P. Money

ScienceThrillers.com book review of Amoeba in the Room by Nicholas P. Money

Publication date: March 23, 2014
Category: Microbiology nonfiction, popular science (or at least, not textbook microbiology)
BlueStar4
Tech rating (out of 5):

Biohazard5

Summary (from the publisher):

A cup of seawater contains 100 million cells, which are preyed upon by billions of viruses. Fifty million tons of fungal spores are released into the atmosphere every year. And the human gut is home to somewhere between 500 and 1,000 species of bacteria. The more we learn about microbial biodiversity, the clearer it becomes that the vast majority of life has long gone unseen, and unobserved. The flowering of microbial science is revolutionizing biology and medicine in ways unimagined only a few years ago, and is inspiring a new view of what it means to be alive.

In The Amoeba in the Room, Nicholas Money explores the extraordinary breadth of the microbial world and the vast swathes of biological diversity that can be detected only using molecular methods. Although biologists have achieved a remarkable level of understanding about the way multicellular organisms operate, Money shows that most people continue to ignore the fact that most of life isn’t classified as either plant or animal. Significant discoveries about the composition of the biosphere are making it clear that the sciences have failed to comprehend the full spectrum of life on earth, which is far more diverse than previously imagined. Money’s engaging work considers this diversity in all its forms, exploring environments from the backyard pond to the ocean floor to the “mobile ecosystem” of our own bodies.

A revitalized vision of life emerges from Money’s lively narrative of the lowly, one in which we are challenged to reconsider our existence in proper relationship to the single-celled protists, bacteria, and viruses that constitute most of life on earth. Proposing a radical reformulation of biology education and research in the life sciences, The Amoeba in the Room is a compelling romp through the least visible and yet most prodigiously magnificent aspects of life on earth.

ScienceThrillers Review:

In order to evaluate The Amoeba in the Room: Lives of the Microbes, it’s critical to first define the book’s audience.

Here’s a useful indicator: tell me, what is a eukaryote? A prokaryote?

If you have no idea, this book is NOT for you. Move along.

Like many of the microorganisms it describes, Amoeba in the Room occupies a small, specialized niche. It is neither popular science with broad appeal, nor is it a textbook of microbiology. The book begins with a sort of pastoral musing by a microbiologist contemplating the exotic, invisible life in his Ohio backyard pond. Over the pages the author takes us on a global tour of the microbes, highlighting the incomparably strange and amazing features that are commonplace and ordinary among very small forms of life. He structures this journey by environment, from pond, to ocean, soil, fresh water, air, the insides of humans, and extreme environments, selecting a few striking microbes to highlight in each place while emphasizing the incomprehensible diversity and complexity of each ecosystem.

But Amoeba in the Room is both much less and much more than an inventory of remarkable microbes. (Dr. Money makes clear how foolhardy such an endeavor would be.) This book has a consistent message that culminates in the end with a call to arms. Money’s goal is to change the reader’s way of seeing the world, and especially to change the way we teach (and study) biology. One microbe at a time in the text, he gradually succeeds.

The tone is folksy and conversational but the content is intended for people who are fairly knowledgeable about biology in general and microbiology in particular. The author is trying to reach teachers of science, to open their eyes to the fact that biology education is stuck in the 19th or even 18th century with its emphasis on the life that we can see, even though every plant and animal in our daily experience is, in fact, trivial to the biosphere as a whole. Life on earth is overwhelmingly microbial by any standard: the most diverse; the most numerous; the most massive; the most widespread; and the most important for regulating the cycling of nutrients, the composition of the atmosphere, the pH of the oceans, the viability of the planet itself.

Money makes an excellent case for a dramatic re-evaluation of taxonomy. The classification of life into kingdoms Prokaryotes, Eukaryotes, and the “new” Archaea, with the eukaryotes grouped as animals, plants, fungi, and protists, in the author’s words, “hasn’t been a serious reading of the facts for a long time, but it has shown remarkably tenacity.” He mentions the eight “supergroups” of eukarya, which were new to me, and clearly have not been adopted by the educational establishment.

Amoeba in the Room grew on me. I found myself reading a few pages every night, never arrested by the narrative, but always curious to read a little more. By the time I reached the end, the author had succeeded in making a rather profound and permanent change in my world view.

If you are involved in biology education at any level, including elementary school, I recommend you read this book. Like the microbes themselves, Amoeba in the Room is easily overlooked but carries an important message.

Just to share more about the flavor and perspective of the book, I’m going to share some of the many passages I highlighted and which continue to affect my thoughts.

{Some factual tidbits are definitely worth sharing; for example, who that knew diatoms have sex? Or that most of the planet’s genetic information is not found in living cells at all, but in viruses? That the tiny amoeba proteus has a genome one hundred times bigger than ours?}

“Once we turn to the microscopic organisms, the definition of a species becomes more a philosophical question than a scientific one. For bacteria and archaea, especially, the species view of life is almost meaningless.”

(by moving genes around) “Viruses sabotage the tree of life envisioned by Darwin in which steady modification leads to the proliferation of new branches and the demise of older ones, creating an ordered pattern of vertical evolutionary descent.”

“There is a uniformity to all plants which is impossible to appreciate at first glance. The range of leaf shapes and sizes and the brilliance of floral forms are powerful distractions from the fact that all plants work in the seem way and add no more than a splotch to the astonishing breadth of biological diversity when viewed in relation to the supergroup arrangement of life.”

“It’s just as difficult to figure out what’s living in the dirt and how they’re doing it as it is to unravel the biology of the open ocean archaea…The species that prosper on agar represent less than 0.5 percent of the life in the soil; most microbes have thirsts that we have failed to slake in the laboratory.”

“During my lifetime we have learned that a far greater repository of biological diversity exists among the unicellular organisms and the viruses than we find throughout the animal and plant kingdoms. Yet, even in the twenty-first century the majority of professional scientists are preoccupied with macrobiology. This is a problem.”

“Ecosystems, like individual animals, don’t work very well without microbes…Ecology cannot be taught any more without considering the importance of microorganisms.”

“We carry microbes around and feed them; they deliver the power that allows us to do so…Microbial ecology should stimulate a feeling of uneasiness about the meaning of our species and the importance of the individual.”

“By adding microbes to the public discourse we may get closer to comprehending the real workings of the biosphere and the growing threat to their perpetuation…If extinction is the thing we are trying to forestall, we would be better placed in trying to save habitats.”

Other unusual words or concepts in the book: enterotypes; panspermia; melanized fungi at Chernobyl; flow cytometer; heterotroph; osmotic balance; DNA library; strict anaerobe; genome; rhizosphere; grex

*****

If you like Amoeba in the Room, you might like:
microbiology science thriller Petroplague by Amy Rogers; Bad Science by Ben Goldacre; Deadly Outbreaks by Alexandra Leavitt; Flu by Gina Kolata; The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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New release book review: MIND’S EYE by Douglas Richards

ScienceThrillers.com review of Mind’s Eye by Douglas Richards

BlueStar3

(very good; top 50% of SciThri)


Publication date: January 14, 2014
Category: SciFi thriller
Tech rating (out of 5):

Biohazard3

Summary (from the publisher):

When Nick Hall wakes up in a dumpster–bloodied, without a memory, and hearing voices in his head–he knows things are bad. But they’re about to get far worse. Because he’s being hunted by a team of relentless assassins. Soon Hall discovers that advanced electronics have been implanted in his brain, and he now has two astonishing abilities. He can surf the web using thoughts alone. And he can read minds. But who inserted the implants? And why? And why is someone so desperate to kill him?

ScienceThrillers Review:

Mind’s Eye is the newest science fiction thriller novel by Douglas E. Richards, an author who has found success publishing both independently and with a major publisher. This book highlights Richards’ strengths and should be embraced by fans of his other novels.

The back-cover summary (above) sets the story, as does the excellent opening chapter in which the reader is driven forward with the same terrors and questions as the initially-nameless protagonist. Who is he? Why is he in a Dumpster? Why are people trying to kill him? And what’s with the voices in his head?

As Nick Hall comes to know himself, and the reader discovers him through his actions and choices, he is revealed to be an ordinary man rising to extraordinary heights to meet his desperate situation. Because Mind’s Eye is full of twists, there is much about the plot that I can’t reveal here (though clever readers will see many of the twists coming). Nick crosses the path of a woman and their fates become entwined as they try to stay one step ahead of assassins. A big game is afoot, one not fully revealed until the very end, and the villains working against Nick are many, though of varying types.

Douglas E. Richards’ authorial signature, on display in his earlier books Wired and The Cure, is to introduce an extreme technology that intimately affects some aspect of what it means to be human; to embody that technology in a real person who is placed in extreme peril because of the technology’s potential to disrupt the natural order and to empower villains; and to make it all believable and feel not like the story is set in some far-off future, but rather just over the horizon, say, in a decade or less. In Wired, the technology was super-human intelligence, induced temporarily by a drug; in The Cure, it was a cure for psychopathy. Here in Mind’s Eye, it’s not one but two extraordinary traits, surgically-induced: the ability to access the Internet using your mind, and the ability to read other people’s minds.

In each story Richards’ imagined technology is tightly linked to human psychology and society. Therefore his stories delve deeply into the implications of the disruptive tech. In Mind’s Eye, time and again the author surprises you with a fresh insight into the big and then bigger effects of ESP. What would this power do to the user? To his relationships with others? To society? To the economy, law enforcement, even global geopolitics? In conversational interludes throughout the book, the characters speculate about these issues and provide the intelligent reader with food for thought.

Richards writes with plenty of plot tension to keep the pages turning. Things get a little weak with romance elements and a few too many examples of bad guys talking first and shooting later. The biggest bad guy in the end is a cartoon. The author is a smart guy; he thinks through the permutations so events in the story are always logical. Then through the characters, he explains events to the reader, who at times may question why such explanations are needed. But the author dots all his i’s and crosses all his t’s, so to speak, and the various plot threads are all resolved to the reader’s satisfaction.

Incidentally, Mind’s Eye fits into a trend I’ve been noticing lately as a reviewer: lots of books about or related to transhumanism / the singularity. This is the idea of technology enhancing human abilities to the point that humans become something entirely different from what we are today. Do the fiction writers know something?

*****

If you like Mind’s Eye, you’ll like Douglas Richards’ book WIRED

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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