Fiction Reviews

Vitals: Never Say Die

(2002) Greg Bear, Harper Collins, 6.99, pbk, 342 pp, ISBN 0-007-12975-0


This is the UK paperback release, hence (at the time of reviewing 2004) a couple of years after its initial US hardback publication.

Vitals: Never Say Die concerns a scientists quest to find anti-ageithetics treatments to increase human longevity. Formally from the establishment, he is now bank-rolled by a multi-millionaire who is quite happy to part with a small proportion of his fortune on the off chance he may get extra years of life. Then one day as our scientist is sampling abyssal thermal vents for exotic species (with their exotic metabolism) when the pilot of his submersible goes bezerk. They make it back to the surface to find that some of the crew similarly went into an attack frenzy. Though bizarre, the incident is chalked up as to one of those rare inexplicable things, but our protagonist notes that several of his ageithetic-research peers have been killed. Suddenly his scientific discipline has become high-risk work that may not end up extending life but shortening his own...

I do not want to spoil the middle of this book let alone the end, so I can't discuss much of the science with you as it is fundamental to the plot. I can say that this follows some of the themes in Bear's work - see our interview with him. I can also say that his science is well researched: though naturally there is a science fictional add on. The acknowledgement at the book's end indicates the author succumbing to a particular real scientist's academic enthusiasm and over-interpretation of a real-life phenomenon's significance. Though scientist readers of SF who get the chance to talk to authors may wish for them to have their feet on the ground, even if their heads are in the stars, it does not matter if one is just reading their fiction from where their inspiration originates. So fair enough. Belief in a dinosaur in a Scottish loch may be twaddle but makes for a delightful yarn. But I would hate to Vitals readers picking up on the afterward reference to be completely uncritical of the inspiring science. (After all a sand dune in the wind processes information, albeit the size of sand grains.) Anyway, the afore had to be mentioned as this is the Science Fact and Fiction Concatenation.

Greg Bear has again produced another thought-provoking novel demonstrating that he continues to stand firm with the likes of Gregory Benford, and Jack McDevitt. The man does for biochemical systems what Egan and Gibson do for information science. Most definitely recommended.

Jonathan Cowie

Previously reviewed on this site is the New Legends collection of shorts by several writers but edited by Greg Bear.

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