Science Fiction Review


Frameshift

(1997) Robert J Sawyer, Voyager, 5.99, pbk pp343, ISBN 0-00-648320-8

Pierre Tardivel is a Canadian scientist working on the human genome project in the US. Ironically he knows that he himself has a 50% chance of having a genetically inherited disease, Huntington's chorea (or disease as it is commonly referred to in North America). Meanwhile, in trying to get health insurance coverage he discovers that someone is secretly genetically profiling policy holders and killing them off those likely to generate a claim. In uncovering what is going on he stumbles across a chase for old World War II nazi criminals.

Robert Sawyer is proving himself to be one of Canada's most formidable SF writers. With Framshift he again shows his ability to weave a cracking tale. However it has to be said that this book, though good, is not one of his best. It sits uncomfortably on the fence between SF and techno-thriller. The book's main flaw is that it has an SF trope thrown in for good measure - that of telepathy - which might have been done to sugar the techno-thriller pill for the growing SF readership the man is attracting. However all it does is undermine the believability of what is really quite an incisive story that reflects some of the genuine ethical concerns that will need to be addressed as the currently new genetic science enables spin-out technology and meets potential consumer needs. Furthermore the author has clearly spent some time researching the biology, indicating that should he ever he decide to leave fiction he has great potential as a popular science writer. His going over the top is a shame, and it would have been preferable if he dealt with genetic frameshifts and hypothetical super power endowing genes in another story (indeed I understand that there may be two related novels to follow). Nonetheless, suspend your disbelief, sit back and ride the concerns that are dogging those currently determining science policy (over the use of genomics) on both sides of the Atlantic.

Jonathan Cowie


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