Genre: Hard SF
Published: Harper Collins 2003
Purchased: Borders, Cambridge, 2004-01-24, £6.99
Greg Bear frequently writes biologically-based SF, and he does it again here. In this novel, we first encounter the hero, Hal Cousins, one of two people in a deep submarine dive to retrieve specimens from the oceanic smokers off the Seattle coast. He's hoping to find cells that have been 'left behind' by evolution, in an attempt to fully understand why cells grow old and die. Yes, Hal is after immortality.
But things go wrong - the submarine pilot attacks and tries to kill him, and when he gets the sub back to the surface, shootings have happened there. And from there, the plot is away on a winding, unpredictable course. It's exciting, puzzling, with a heavy dose of paranoia and a strong reliance of cutting edge biology. Even if some of it is unbelievable, he's led you there down such an assured path you have no problem suspending the disbelief - a little like the cartoon physics where the road runner actually disappears off into the distance through a hoarding pasted on a cliff face.
In fact, I'd put this down as a possible book of the year for me except for the ending, which sort of winds down rather than resolving. A lot of questions got raised during the course of the story, and not all get solved. It's even a bit murky as to whether the world is a better or worse place. All in all, the last ten pages let the rest down.