Fiction Reviews


Quantico

(2005) Greg Bear, Harper Collins, 17.99, hrdbk, 435 pp, ISBN 0-007-12978-5

 

In the not-too-distant future the 'war against terrorism' is almost lost. Extremists, both western and from the Middle East in part together, develop and plan to deliver a new type of biological weapon. Three young FBI agents each have their different encounter with this new development and the FBI itself is under political attack. As the cover blurb says, 'victory may be hard to define'. Greg Bear, the accomplished SF author has moved sideways to produce a solid, fast-moving and accomplished techno-thriller.

Greg Bear is well known for his SF offerings. His early, then almost seminal (and now still very worthy) Blood Music concerning the development of an artificial communally sentient microbiological species. His Darwin's Children and allied books, as well as other works, such as Vitals: Never Say Die) have demonstrated his interest in microbiology, but ask the man himself and he says he is interested in communication. Therefore in one sense it is not surprising that he has married his interest in microbiology with a new (if perverse) form of communication - terrorism. Nor is it surprising that with this work he has moved away from the heartland of SF to its borders with the thriller genre. After all Greg Bear only recently wrote a fairly successful horror novel (Dead Lines) that also straddled that genre's divide with SF. Considering all of this, with the benefit of hindsight, a techno-thriller from him seemed almost inevitable. Again, as with Dead Lines he has demonstrated that he is at least at home in this current territory as he is with more heartland SF.

This brings us on - because this site is viewed mainly by SF enthusiasts - to whether SF readers are likely to enjoy Quantico? Well, if such readers also enjoy thrillers then the answer will undoubtedly be yes. If not it is harder to say. Quantico certainly does feature a number of SF-type tropes. Hi technology, a nuclear explosion, space weapons and of course biotechnology in the form of bio-terrorism as well as world-shaking events. There are also a few nods for SF readers: the ship called 'Heinlein' being one. This may be enough for more dedicated SF-only readers to enjoy Quantico but I have a feeling that some may not find enough to sustain them. Furthermore, Greg Bear openly says (in an afterword) that he has kept the science specifics out of his novel in effect for security reasons. This is a prudent move as many scientists I know are aware, given not too many resources, of being able to create an incident resulting in a fair degree of social mayhem and the international news. Certainly bioscientists will be aware that the young science of genomics, and relatedly proteonomics, has sparked an interest in pharmacogenetics (tailoring medicines to genetic populations) and so in the not too distant future biogenetic weapons are one possible consequence. However as the science in Quantico is kept firmly in the background, the novel's theme alone may not push sufficient buttons for die hard SF readers.

(A quick aside: Paul McAuley recently tried the same thing with his techno-thriller Mind's Eye but his weird glyph idea was arguably more of a hook for SF folk.)

I mention the afore not to knock the book, Quantico is, as I have said, an accomplished techno-thriller, but I needed to make those points purely in the interests of consumer information for Concat's regulars. Many SF readers will, though, enjoy Quantico. It is certainly remains a must for SF book collectors of Bear's other works, simply because the thematic connections are there. It also should do well among techno-thriller aficionados. Greg Bear and his publishers should therefore be pleased with the likely sales. My own personal bias though, and it is personal bias, is to wish that Greg Bear's next offering be more firmly SF, and the current word has it that this is in fact so.   Bring it on.

Jonathan Cowie


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