Monday, 13 October 2014

Vitals by Greg Bear

In this one, Greg Bear has kind of abandoned the ideas for the thrill of the chase. It's much more technothriller than science fiction, although I suppose the science is enough out there it could sort of qualify. But it's the speed at which everything happens, the plot racing by too fast for there to be real consideration of the ideas, that I find a pity. I know he can do better, and I'd much prefer a novel of ideas.

But that's bemoaning the fact that the book isn't the book I thought it would be, and that's a little unfair. Although, I would say, not unjustified, given that I've read so many Bear books over the years, and this seems a marked deviation. It's one of my first delves into his recent canon, and if this is the way it's going, I'm a bit disappointed.

On the other hand, if you're just looking for a good technothriller, this is not at all bad.

And it's not that there aren't ideas, they're just considered at such a breakneck pace, that it's like a doppler effect - fading out as it rushes by, so you only catch every other word.

This is about the search for eternal life, which two twin scientists become fixated it on as possible through blocking bacteria and mitochondria from winding out bodies down. But they discover (as one is killed), that they may have been beaten to that particular secret by decades, by a scientist in Stalinist Russia, who is still around and may be controlling the world.

Because longevity also gives you mind control? That seems to be the theory, but there is no time to dwell on it because people are trying to kill our protagonists! At any rate, the secrets rulers of the world have both longevity and mind control, and yet Hal, the remaining twin scientist, remains alive for a startlingly long time, possibly because he's been messing around with his own bacteria.

He races through the landscape, accompanied by his brother's beautiful wife, who is only too happy to sleep with him. He encounters an anti-Semitic historian, who, despite his Holocaust-denial, may know something about the mind controllers. He finds another historians. They find a film director whose lover was brainwashed at length by the bad guys. They are strafed! They go to New York! They find a secret lair with weirdness inside!

I'm not going to go into any more plot. But this book was, while fine, and entertaining as I read it, as thin as onionskin. It's plot as an excuse for incident, breakneck speed for the sake of tension, and not much underneath. I preferred the Darwin books he wrote, even if they were maybe drifting a bit this way by the end. At least there was time to sit, catch your breath, and talk about what the hell was going on.

I did find myself impatient that the main character didn't know who "Koba" was - who doesn't know that?!  Then I remember that I only know that because I played a roleplaying game set in Cold War Berlin, and it came up there and maybe I was being a bit unreasonable. And then I felt pleased with myself, for no particular reason.


  1. Having just finished this book I wish I had come across your review earlier and spared myself. My views are identical to yours. All action and no substance.

    1. It's too bad, because some of his books have been chock full of ideas.