techno-thriller

Living Proof by Kira Peikoff

Living Proof is the opera prima of Kira Peikoff, the daughter of Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir, Leonard Peikoff. In it, Peikoff uses a near-future setting to explore the logical conclusion of certain prolife arguments with which she disagrees. The plot of this thriller is well-structured and the writing, notwithstanding the occasional imperfection, is decent. However, in the end it gave me the same feeling I get from a dish made from good ingredients that nevertheless wants salt. Or pepper. Or oregano. Or something.

Arianna — a protagonist in the Randian tradition — is a brave, rational, free-thinking and beautiful doctor working at a fertility clinic in New York City in the year 2028. Embryos have been given the same legal status as human beings, and the Department of Embryo Protection is tasked with making sure that embryos not used in implantation are frozen and taken care of instead of being disposed of. The DEP chief becomes suspicious of Arianna when her clinic experiences a sudden and inexplicable surge in popularity. He sends Trent Rowe undercover to earn Arianna’s trust so he can find out what she is up to and if she is “murdering” embryos. What Trent discovers will challenge his beliefs, and he must make a choice between what he was raised to believe, and what Arianna has taught him.

Peikoff’s prose is decent, although she occasionally misuses words, which sound like notes of a melody played flat. On page 58, for instance, she uses “pretext” when she means “pretense.” On page 55 she uses “oblivion” when she cannot possibly have meant it.

She also has an affinity for metaphors, some of which go off well and help elucidate an idea. For instance, on page 261 she writes, “But recently the cells had been tantalizingly close to the goal, developing as astrocytes or microglia instead of oligodendrocytes, like Cokes instead of Diet Cokes.” However, there are just as many times when no metaphor is needed, or the one she chooses takes the reader out of the story. A good example is on page 163, where a character is said to be “trapped in an ethical straitjacket, laced tight with emotional strings.” It is not that the metaphor cannot convey the idea, but the particular one used seems a little silly and distracting, like a knowledgeable professor whose belly spills over the waistline of the pants he bought when he was 40 pounds lighter.

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The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod

The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod

Having never read a Ken MacLeod novel before, I found my introduction to him to be a bit rocky. The opening chapters of The Restoration Game were replete with irritants. After that it settled down and started to tell an interesting story, but never quite managed to completely convince. It had the right ingredients for a better tale, but it could not get the doses right and wound up feeling, for all its positive points, out of balance.

The story’s protagonist, Lucy Stone, spent most of her childhood in the fictional Soviet Republic of Krassnia, but now works for a computer game company in Edinburgh. Her company is hired to make a Krassnian version of a popular medieval computer game, and her heritage and lingual abilities, rare to be found in the West, are the reason her company was chosen. There is more to this request for a Krassnian video game than is initially apparent, however. Lucy’s mother is a former CIA operative, and another man who might be her father is mired in the same kind of political intrigue. Through them Lucy gets entangled in an international plot the details of which are murky but the danger in which becomes increasingly apparent. Finally, she finds herself on a mission with consequences so far reaching that “epic” does not seem to do them justice.

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Living Proof by Kira Peikoff

In the interest of full disclosure, here are the books we received in April.

The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod
The Restoration Game
Ken MacLeod
Pyr
The Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod
The Night Sessions
Ken MacLeod
Pyr
Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley
Cowboy Angels
Paul McAuley
Pyr
Living Proof by Kira Peikoff
Living Proof
Kira Peikoff
Tor Books

Yes, that’s prominent Objectivist Leonard Peikoff’s daughter.

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Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell

I have previously read and reviewed Tobias S. Buckell’s Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin, both of which I enjoyed. On the other hand, I am skeptical of alarmist claims about global warming. So it was with some ambivalence, a mixture of excitement and trepidation, that I began reading my advance review copy (ARC) of Buckell’s latest novel — his first foray into techno-thrillers — Arctic Rising (Tor, 2012). Though he had me worried a time or two, I was pleasantly surprised and glad I read it.

Arctic Rising is set in the near future — the Earth is warmer and the Arctic Circle is largely ice-free year-round. States and corporations are racing to take advantage of the new oversea North Pole trade route and the untapped resources made accessible by the receding ice. As you might expect, this is a situation ripe for political conflict, and environmentalists are none-too-happy with the change in climate either.

Buckell handles the environmental angle fairly gracefully. The global warming issue mainly shows up as background, for the setting, and as a plot device. Speaking of the plot, don’t read the GoodReads description of the book if you prefer to avoid major spoilers.

For the most part he avoids thumping you over the head with an ideological bludgeon. The one time I got really worried he was going to spoil the book for me was about 3/4ths of the way through when the co-founders of a green energy corporation go off on a talking point–ridden tag-team duologue, but let’s just say that the impact was lessened by the way they were subsequently portrayed.

Unlike many environmentalists I’ve encountered, Buckell has no difficulty recognizing that global warming would be harmful to some but also beneficial to others; that, contrary to the frequent warnings of doom and gloom, it wouldn’t be all bad. Sea levels would rise. But rising temperatures would open up more arable land in the north. While already hot regions might get detrimentally hotter, colder climes would get warmer as well and benefit from longer growing seasons. Resources previously buried under tons of ice would become open to exploitation. Moreover, once people have adjusted to the warmer temperatures, a return to colder temperatures of previous decades would result in winners and losers as well. There are no neutral climate changes; any changes in the Earth’s climate will have both positive and negative consequences.

As Arctic Rising opens, we are introduced to our sole viewpoint character — one Anika Duncan, a mixed-race Nigerian airship pilot for the chronically underfunded United Nations Polar Guard. As the story progresses we gradually learn more about her colorful past as a child soldier and later a mercenary pilot. When offered her dream job by the UN, prior to the start of the action, Anika had jumped at the chance for a safer, less eventful career doing what she loved.

And things were nice and quiet for Anika… until a hunch leads her to take a second look at a freighter. When something radioactive in the ship sets off her neutron scatter camera, Anika, thinking they are just nuclear waste dumpers, orders them to prepare for boarding. But the crew respond by blowing her and her co-pilot, Tom, out of the sky and into the still-frigid waters of the Arctic. Something bigger than nuclear waste dumping is going on here.

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