Fiction Reviews

The Waking

(2006) T. M. Jenkins, Pan, 6.99, pbk, 454pp, ISBN 978-0-330-4-4032-5

In 2006 Dr Nate Sheehan is killed in a robbery and his wife, Dr Mary Sheehan, takes the decision to freeze his head. But is it coincidental that Nate should die just when he's come into possession of proof of scientific plagiarism? A fraud that may have already cost one life? In 2069, 57 years after Mary died in the Great Quake of 2012, Duane Williams is executed for a hideous crime. His body is given to doctors Persis Bandelier, a 'genetic' whose DNA strand has been 'optimised', and Garth Bannerman, a normal who is testing rejection drugs for transplants involving nano-machines. So they take Nate's head and put it on Duane's body... In the meantime, a reporter who is trying to file a simple story on what happened to Duane's body finds himself up against more obstruction than he was expecting. Naturally he is curious as to what's going on, so decides to investigate the matter further, running across Duane's identical twin and co-suspect in the crime he was executed for. But the US is also in the grip of several anti-biotic resistant diseases, and travel between states is severly curtailed. When Nate escapes from the facility where he's held, he finds a strange, frightening and inexplicable world has come about due to the shortsightedness of his generation. Can he ever have a normal life when the military arm of the Centre for Disease Control want him dead as a health risk? Whatever happened to that old case of scientific plagiarism? And was Duane just a fall guy for a crime he didn't commit? If you start reading this book, you won't have long to wait to find out the answers, which is the problem, of course...

This is Jenkin's first novel and it is as well researched as you'd expect from a man who started life as a journalist for the Evening Standard who went on to become a TV newscaster and reporter for Thames and ITN, before directing documentaries for the BBC and Channel Four. The writing is pretty crisp and efficient, the background believable and the characters are... OK. But there's just not enough 'thriller' here to keep the reader's interest, since only two questions really matter, and the attentive reader will solve the 'mysteries' with no trouble. Here's a clue to one of them, just to show you what I mean: possible miscarriage of justice involving a man found guilty of a crime he maintains he did not commit is charged using DNA evidence. Man has identical twin brother. 2+2=? And this is far from all that's wrong with the novel plotwise. There are little holes all over the place (the doctors lose their patient for a length of time before they 'rescue' him, but later one of them tracks him right across the country and, when asked how?, glibly replies that she followed the trace of his implants; so why didn't they use that method the first time?) and though no one of them on its own is anything more than annoying, the accumulation of these holes eventually becomes outright irritating (since in many cases these slips would take barely a line or two added or deleted to sort out the problem). In the end this is just another techno-thriller with an SF backdrop that could (and should) have been handled better, but there is no shame in that. If you're some kind of SF 'purist', then you probably should not bother with this, but if you are just looking for a 'beachreader', then you have found one. An annoying one to be sure, but it will not hurt your brain.

Tony Chester

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