by James Barney
(very good; top 50% of SciThri)
Year published: 2011
Category: science thriller; religious/political thriller
Tech rating (out of 5):
SUMMARY (from back cover):
More than three decades ago, Dr. Kathleen Sainsbury’s archaeologist parents were murdered at an ancient excavation site in Iraq. Now the gifted biologist stands on the brink of a miraculous breakthrough: the discovery of a gene that could extend a human life by hundreds of years. But at the moment of her greatest triumph, a mysterious phone call reveals a hidden truth that draws chaos and violence once again into Kathleen’s world…and threatens to irreversibly alter the destiny of mankind.
The Genesis Key is a debut novel whose greatest strength is a fascinating premise that combines molecular biology, world religions, and the ancient history of Mesopotamia. If that’s not enough for you, this novel also encompasses multiple conspiracies, medical ethics, symbology, and angels (yep, you read that right).
It’s an ambitious agenda that author James Barney pulls off with a coherent and (for a thriller) believable plot. The trade-off for the reader is, The Genesis Key is more thought-provoking than thrilling. If you’re looking for a nonstop adrenaline rush of book, you probably should look elsewhere. But if you don’t mind some intellect in your storyline, you’ll enjoy this novel.
I myself like both types of books—the roller coaster as well as thrillers with an academic flavor. This novel kept me going and I devoured it in one sitting.
For a nonscientist, author Barney does a great job with the science. An experienced scientist can tell from the tone and word choices that a nonscientist is making up the lab scenes, but ordinary folk won’t notice a thing. Fairly sophisticated genetic knowledge is applied to the plot, not just sprinkled on top for effect. Barney’s science consultants must have been effective because I think he’s created a reasonable storyline that drifts into SciFi only at the places necessary to serve the story. The fusion of science and mythology also works well. As in many science thrillers, the greatest technical flaw is in the resolution/cure (in this case, something related to the application of genomics data to human health).
Profound ethical issues are raised in this book and create interesting motivations for some of the characters.
The protagonist isn’t memorable (and why the heck didn’t she know more about her parents?) but she gets the job done.
I see a lot of potential in this author’s work and hope his next novel is another science-themed thriller.
Key words: Iraq; Tell-Fara; ziggurat; Drosophila melanogaster; bioinformatics; genomics; DARPA; evolution; Ur; Sumeria; Nephilim; epic of Gilgamesh