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Saturday, July 11, 2015

Good story...bad science fiction

Grant, Michael; Applegate, Katherine (2012) Eve and Adam. New York:  Feiwel and Friends,

Opening line:"I am thinking of an apple when the streetcar hits and my leg severs and my ribs crumble and my arm is no longer an arm but something unrecognizable, wet and red."

Science fiction is not necessarily about getting the science right.  It is about using science to explore possibilities.  But here is the thing, the author needs to frame the hypothetical parts of the story in such a way that the science gives the reader the chance to believe in the story.  At the same time, too much exposition about the science can get in the way of the characters and their stories.  It is a fine line to walk.  I get that.

And the story of Eve and Adam is an interesting one.  Evening Spicer is a girl who gets hurt in a horrible streetcar accident.  She goes to the hospital at first, but is quickly taken from there to the huge pharmacological research complex that her mother is the owner and CEO of.  There she begins her recovery and some odd things start happening.  First, she meets Solo Plissken, a teenaged boy who is kind of a gopher for the scientists.  He also lives in the complex and seems to be hiding something.  Eve finds him attractive (but that scares her -- she seems pretty timid about starting a relationship with a boy).  Then her mother gives her a project to concentrate on during her recovery.  It is a computer simulation that allows Eve to use the genetic code to design a human being.  She throws herself into the project and is almost so focused on it that she doesn't notice how quickly she is healing -- almost, but not quite.

From there the story gets really interesting.  Intrigue, revelations, subterfuge, danger, and, of course, a love triangle soon follow.  It is a good story, and honestly, probably fifty to sixty percent of the young readers of this book will find it quite enjoyable.  But any reader who has been exposed to good science teaching (or good science fiction) may find themselves getting stuck in places.  The science simply needs more scaffolding to let us believe in it.  It don't want to spoil the plot, so I will try to keep it general, but for example, how can genetic modification cause the body's healing processes to repair broken tissue faster than cells can divide?  How could you create a fully grown human clone in a matter of a few days? How is it that a high school student (admittedly a very bright one) can play around on a simulator for a few days and create an aesthetically perfect being?  How could you grow a clone in just a few days and imprint on that clone the English language and basic understanding of such depth that they could function on their own in a city without having any trouble?  Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that these things are impossible (especially in a world of fiction -- that is what is so great about fiction) just that the authors need to persuade the readers more that such things could be possible.

There is also some stereotyping of scientists here as nerds, as being physically uncoordinated and weak, and as being amoral -- and that bothered me (probably because I am a nerd).  And the conflict in the love triangle was resolved quicker than some readers would have wanted it to be (though I didn't mind that).

This book is probably best for high school, though certainly there are many middle school readers who would have no trouble understanding it.  There is some sexual innuendo, though nothing really explicit, and no actual sex.  The story does deal briefly with a character who is a drug dealer and is in trouble with the gangsters he lent money to, though his life is clearly shown as being horrible, but overall, there is not much here that a reasonable adult would object to.  The main protagonist is female, but chapters alternate with a male perspective.  I suspect it would not be too difficult to get males to read this one as well.

But as I said before:  This is a good enough book, it just isn't very good science fiction.

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