Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Along the Ashfold Road
by Robert Dawson

Big Boost
by N.E. Chenier

Ceres Beach Resort
by Paul Michael Moreau

by Michael Hodges

Space Squid!
by Myke Edwards

Dahlia and the Ronin
by Milo James Fowler

A Self-Digging Well
by Jay Fuller

World Without Rot
by Erin Lale

Water Finds Its Path
by Robert Lowell Russell

Turning Humans On
by Antha Ann Adkins


Biology of a Hyper-Evolved Theropod
by John McCormick

How Airplanes Fly, Really
by Eric M. Jones

You’ve Got Fantasy in My Science!
by Carol Kean




Shorter Stories

Comic Strips



Perihelion Reviews

This Daikaiju’s for You

TO MANY, THERE ARE ONLY TWO “Godzilla” movies. There’s the 1954 original (which may or may not include a starring turn by Raymond Burr), and the 1998 remake, where Matthew Broderick chased around a titanic iguana with only a passing resemblance to the original Tokyo crusher. These folks, on the outskirts of Godzilla fandom, might recognize a name like Mothra or Rodan (certainly not mouthfuls like Anguirus or Ebirah), but they might not know the full extent of the King of the Monsters’ legacy: twenty-eight Japanese films spanning sixty years of city-stomping history. Plus one best-left-forgotten ’98 remake.

But now it’s time for the big green guy to court American audiences once more. From director Gareth Edwards comes a new “Godzilla,” a bigger “Godzilla” (at a whopping 350 feet tall, the biggest Godzilla to ever shake a screen) and a louder “Godzilla.” Now, his signature roar comes standard in IMAX.

And Edwards’ “Godzilla” attempts something no previous “Godzilla” film has ever done: in 2014, the King of the Monsters has gone meta. The new film starts out as a quasi-conspiracy thriller, as nuclear engineer Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is caught in a life-changing phenomenon he can’t possibly explain (we in the audience, of course, know the explanation is simply “giant monsters”). Joe loses his job, his mind, and what little is left of his family—consisting mostly of son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), daughter-in-law Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and grandson Sam (Carson Bolde). But when the same seismic anomaly that drove him off the deep end appears fifteen years later, Joe enlists his son in the hunt for something dark and mysterious and several stories tall.

Now for the fun part—in Edwards’ “Godzilla,” “Godzilla” is real. Not just the dinosaur, mind you, but the 1954 film by Ishiro Honda. In an ingenious opening credit sequence, we’re clued into the world Edwards has established. Back in the ’50s, there really was a skyscraper-sized dinosaur lumbering around in the Pacific. Some people (those in the government) saw the big guy and tried to blow him to pieces—the nuclear tests of the 1950s were really tests to see if an atom bomb could rid the world of its Godzilla problem. And some other people caught a glimpse of Godzilla and decided to make a movie out of what they saw. Hence, we have 1954’s “Godzilla,” and the six-decade franchise that followed.

“Godzilla” (the 2014 one, that is) does more than just play a neat narrative trick with the original. It uses the same fundamental design. The original “Godzilla,” is, of course, one monster-sized metaphor for the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The victims of Godzilla’s original rampage wept in the remnants of their destroyed homes and suffered massive doses of radiation poisoning. It’s not hard to see where the metaphor lies.

Edwards’ film might not be as blatant, but it gets a point across just the same—Godzilla and his monster foes are playing out the saga of global warming and renewable energy. Dig a little bit past the monster brawls and the symbolism quickly becomes clear. The MUTOs (massive unidentified terrestrial organisms), whom Godzilla spends most of his time entangled with, feed off of nuclear energy. Specifically, our own nuclear missiles and nuclear waste stockpiles. We even learn, thanks to a quick snippet of exposition, that both Godzilla and MUTO are holdovers from an ancient time when the Earth was far more irradiated than it is now. Were mankind not so foolish as to dabble with something it can’t possibly comprehend (that “something” being nuclear power), there’d be nothing to grow these great big bugs in the first place. The ultimate cause of society’s monster problem is society itself.

But while the MUTOs gorge themselves, like giant irradiated children at a nuclear Chuck E. Cheese, Godzilla takes only what he absolutely needs. That same bit of exposition tells us the big lizard swims so far below sea level that he can munch the low-level radiation given off by the Earth’s core. He’s the ultimate advocate for renewable energy. The MUTOs are far more slash and burn—if the bad guys won and great beasts ruled the Earth, what would the MUTOs do? They’d finish up the last of our missiles and waste deposits, die off within a few quick years and leave the Earth a dry and broken husk. An environmentalist’s worst nightmare.

I (and a few other journalists) had the opportunity to speak to Gareth Edwards, and he was quick to open up about his “Godzilla” and its man vs. nature ideology. First, a ground rule was laid down about films with big monsters in them: “It’s a fantasy movie, but I think all good fantasy has something truthful or real about it.” And after a little more prodding from a group of Godzilla enthusiasts, he elaborated. “We’ve opened this Pandora’s box with nuclear power. We like to think we can control this stuff, and it’s completely safe, but the reality is that things go wrong, and when they do you can’t put it back in the box, and our movie is kind of, if anything, about the fact that we don’t control nature. Nature controls us, and we have to accept that.”

Nothing could be clearer after seeing the film.

Edwards can weave intelligent cinema into a giant fire-breathing dinosaur, but even he can’t escape the one true folly of the “Godzilla” franchise: the humans. In the past sixty years, they’ve been little more than window dressing on the way to men in monster suits pummeling each other. Edwards’ cast of characters is more than that, but not much more.

Cranston, without a doubt, is the heart of the film. As a man whose life became collateral damage in a monster attack, Cranston’s Joe Brody is the one with the biggest emotional stake in all this. He’s the one driving the first half of the movie, godzillasneaking in where he doesn’t belong for that one scrap of real monster evidence that will prove he’s not a raving lunatic.

Cranston’s a supremely capable actor, and he’s as good a monster fanatic as we could ask for in a “Godzilla” film (forever erasing memories of Matthew Broderick, earthworms and that ’98 iguana). But halfway through the film, Cranston’s role diminishes and Taylor-Johnson’s Ford is vaulted up from semi-protagonist to full-protagonist. All the conspiracy elements melt away (a monster stomping on San Francisco is the big green check at the end of a conspiracy checklist) and what’s left is a lot of military drama with little military punch. The characters insert themselves into monster scuffles to try and cut down on the death and destruction. For the most part, they fail. Then they run away. Wash, rinse, repeat. Not only that, but a climax sorely lacking in Cranston is a climax lacking in human emotion. Edwards sets up a terrific little thriller of an introduction, with Joe Brody watching his life crumble away mid-monster assault. By the end of the film, Joe’s pain (and the heart of the film) is all but forgotten.

The ’54 “Godzilla” was heavy on the science as much as it was the military stuff, like an Oxygen Destroyer, the mythical superweapon so powerful it could reduce Godzilla to a pile of bus-sized bones, yet so destructive its inventor committed suicide rather than divulge its secrets to the world. 2014’s “Godzilla” goes easy on the science and heavy on the military—Ford’s a military man, and when the film becomes fully about Ford, it also becomes fully about his sojourns with the Armed Forces.

It’s all handled with accuracy and care (unlike the ’98 incarnation, there are no bumbling fighter pilots who accidentally bomb the Chrysler Building), and Edwards can attest to that. “They were very keen to get the military portrayed as peacekeepers, and trying to save lives, and kind of the opposite to the way they're often portrayed in movies.” According to Edwards, working with the military was actually one of the easier parts of the filming process—military precision is far more precise than Hollywood precision. “You have three hundred extras on a set, and it can take hours to do something right, but you get a military guy in there and it happens in ten minutes.” He adds, with a joke, “if I was in the military, I think when I retired I’d get a job as an assistant director.”

But accurate as it may be, it’s not particularly interesting. David Strathairn, playing a monster-averse admiral, does little besides bark orders at other uniformed men and women.

In any other movie, these character issues would be fatal flaws. In a “Godzilla” movie, where humans are notoriously paper-thin, it’s less of a big deal. And any problems are forgotten the second a beast wanders into frame, as the monster magic in Edwards’ “Godzilla” is every bit as thrilling as a 21st century “Godzilla” could ever be.

First is the sense of scale. For almost the entire time, we’re seeing hundreds of feet of ancient creature from a human’s-eye-view. We see puny Homo sapiens gazing up at monster glory, getting a boost by standing on a building or even trying desperately to sprint through gigantic ankles unnoticed. The film is immensely clever in this regard—Edwards is always ready with another trick or clever bit of camera precision that can capture man and beast in the same frame and not make it seem completely ridiculous.

Not only does this humanize the idea of a giant monster attack, but it also works as a terrific tease. In the final fifteen minutes, when the camera leaps up in the sky to capture these things in their full glory, it’s an unbelievable sight to behold.

Edwards also captures something that monster movies frequently forget. Godzilla is more than just a hulking mass of dinosaur flesh. He’s a character, with thoughts and feelings that are surprisingly human. Perhaps in the ’54 original he was just a walking symbol of atomic devastation, but in the ensuing years Godzilla grew a personality. He had friends, he had rivalries, and eventually he even had a son. “Godzilla vs. Gigan” gave Godzilla dialogue—“Hey Anguirus!” he shouts in a raspy, incomprehensible accent. “Something funny going on. You’d better check!”

Thankfully, this new Godzilla wasn’t given any lines. But he has character; a motivation for slugging it out with the film’s other monster menaces (who do a little diabolical scheming of their own). At times, the kaiju are almost more fleshed out than the human characters, which ends up being the film’s biggest strength and its biggest weakness all rolled up together.

Is 2014’s “Godzilla” a great film? Sadly, no. All those glaring errors in the plotting and the characterization keep it from the higher echelons of filmdom. Is it a great Godzilla film? Without a shadow of a doubt. Edwards treats the big green guy with equal parts reverence and thrilling spectacle. In short, everything he deserves. The Western world has longed for a King of the Monsters to call its own, and with “Godzilla” it finally has one. Long may he reign. (“Godzilla,” directed by Gareth Edwards, Warner Bros.) 4stars—Adam Paul


Good Men and Monsters

AFTER THE NEBULA AND HUGO, THE PROMETHEUS Award is one of the oldest and most enduring fan-based awards in Science Fiction. Established in 1979, the award has been presented annually since 1982 at the World Science Fiction Convention. Nominees must dramatize the conflict between individuals and coercive governments, champion human rights, promote personal and economic liberty, explore a free future, or critique the tragic consequences of abuse of power, especially by the State. Sarah Hoyt’s “Darkship Thieves” won the 2011 Prometheus Award in Reno, and “A Few Good Men,” the third novel in this series, has been short-listed for the 2014 Hugo in London.

On the dystopian Earth of this novel, the ruling party—inaptly known as The Good Men—are killing millions with carefully engineered “natural” disasters. Homosexuality is a crime. The son of the Good Man of Olympic Seacity is barely holding onto his sanity after fourteen years in a prison so deep underground, so secret, few even know it exists. The son is gay, but Luce Keeva has been jailed for worse things. And things are so rotten in Olympic Seacity, it’s time for a revolution.

“The world celebrates great prison breaks,” the story begins, but people forget that for all the innocent, aggrieved, tortured and oppressed who are set free, so are a lot of con artists, rapists and murderers. Not to mention “Monsters like me,” our protagonist reminds us. “My name is Lucius Dante Maximilian Keeva, Luce to my friends, though I killed the last one of those fourteen years ago.”

It’s a diabolically funny and frantic opening chapter, with an extraordinarily tall, strong, self-deprecating monster of a protagonist. I braced myself for another novel full of carnage and endless armies of mooks falling in pools of blood, and was pleasantly surprised that battle scenes are few and not too graphic.

After a cataclysmic prison break, Luce and his unexpected liberator, Nat, who doesn’t even like Luce, are drawn into an alliance. A conspiracy hundreds of years in the making is about to be crushed, if Luce ever gets past the horrifying secrets he keeps uncovering about his family, and if Nat can keep himself from hating the Good Man/Bad Boy whose life he’s forced to protect.

Luce comes into his inheritance as a lonely, bitter felon full of guilt, self-loathing, and reluctance to take the reins. His father and brother have been murdered. Forced into a leadership role over various factions of Good Men, without any training in how to rule, he relies on his father’s right-hand man, Sam, who happens to be Nats father. With the help of Sam, Nat, and Nat’s siblings, Luce navigates the paperwork and machinations of power, the personalities and responsibilities. He must gain trust, build alliances and reconnect the disparate parts of his father’s household and political domain. His life is in more danger now than when he was a prisoner. Peace and security have never looked so elusive. And so many people have never looked so much alike. With his best friend and former lover Ben dead at his own hand, Luce is haunted at how much Nat (Ben’s nephew) and the siblings remind him of Ben. They’re not the only ones. Luce, his dad and brother could have passed for twins if their ages aligned, and other Good Men look just like their fathers.

The horrifying secrets in the family tree are beyond anyone’s ability to repair. Luce is faced with bigger, more immediate concerns, like how to keep himself and all his household alive. Rival families are fighting for control of the seacity. Worse, a worldwide conflagration looms—a Revolutionary War bigger than the one in 1776. A secret, legendary rebel group, Sons of Liberty, may be Luce’s only ally. To win their support, though, Luce is supposed to pledge allegiance to a God he doesn’t believe in, and human rights that never did and never will exist. While in prison all those years, Luce read a lot of 20th and 21st century history books, so he can quote the likes of James Madison with ease: “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”

The novel morphs into a history and political debate, with more quotes from the Founding Fathers, which the Prometheus judges and fans of liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness will enjoy. Indeed, there was less action and more discussion of democracy and U.S. history than I’d expected. Fans of hard science fiction may want to skip the sections on democracy and ... let me see how Madison put it ... “the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” Tricky, working that sort of thing into a space opera. But Hoyt does pull it off.

In her blog, Hoyt laments, “I expected some people would object to the character’s sexual orientation.  It never occurred to me that anyone would take issue with the Usaian religion.” Hoyt blogs, “the Usaian religion was created rationally and on purpose by people who knew history ... The idea was something like we all gotto believe in something. I believe I’ll create a community which will lead to a society in which eventually individual liberty can flourish." She expands on this, then adds, “I’m not lighting candles before statues of Ben Franklin who likely would have pissed himself laughing at the idea, anyway. What I am doing is starting from an idea, and then having people behave as people ...”

Her characters do act like real people, no matter how many genetic enhancements they may have or what religion Hoyt invents for them to follow. Luce shows Nat he’s more than a pampered son called to govern before he’s ready. He’s a full-fledged character, complex and unpredictable, as people will be. He’s a monster, but he wants to be decent. He hears Ben’s voice in his head and argues with a ghost, yet insists theres no such thing as life after death. Luce trusts no one, yet Luce puts his life in the hands of those with most reason to kill him. Page after page, conflict after conflict, Luce struggles to salvage some kind of integrity, to do right by those wronged at his father’s hand, redeem himself, and protect those he would also govern. For all the abuse and betrayal he’s suffered, he is determined to do better. His father’s legacy of cruelty and caprice must end, and Lucewill prove himself worthy of power and responsibility, or forfeit it. For all his failings, Luce is a good man after all.

There are good women in the novel too. Nat’s sister Abigail is a particular favorite of mine, with her skill at fighting, flying and facing any kind of danger. There are burners (futuristic weapons that I covet), and brooms (not clearly described but super-cool personal flying devices), trees that grow in space and produce power pods as fruit, interstellar ships that run on those pods, and a whole race of bad boys who escaped Earth on these things. (Did I mention I want to fly away in one of those?) And there’s this building material known as dimatough (how soon can I get some for my kitchen floor?). And all those genetically engineered traits for strength, speed and intelligence make me hope these are among the annals of science fiction ideas that eventually come true.

Sarah Hoyt has “six worlds” in her head. She’s plotting five more books that will branch off from “A Few Good Men,” so Book Three of this series will double as Book One of a daughter series, "Earth Revolution.”

“As of now I have six novels planned in that series,” Hoyt messaged me via Facebook. “Luce and Nat are so alive they’re now forcing me to write a novella. Sigh.” That story, titled “To Earth,” will likely appear in an anthology.

“The last book in the series for Earth Revolution is fully firm in my head, but I’m not sure I can reveal it because it’s going to get me killed by both sides,” Sarah told me. Without giving away anything, I’d like to say I look forward to Hoyt’s take on bio manipugoodmenlation and the possibility of—all right, all right. I’ll say no more.

It’s a turbulent time. For Abigail Keeva-Remy, I mean, not for the author who is juggling all these books. Sarah Hoyt keeps delivering strong women, and I keep delivering spoilers, but the message is too important not to share: “Oh good grief, hundreds of years from now men still hold women back.” Even if they don’t mean to; even if they’re just being overly protective out of love and devotion.

“A Few Good Men” could have been more tightly edited. In a debut novel from an indie author, typos are easier to overlook than in a higher priced novel from a publishing house with paid, professional editors. This novel could have used some trimming and tightening, especially the dialogue, which was oddly truncated with hyphens, ellipses and unfinished thoughts. If it were just one character, or one family, the oddity might slide, but every character waxes incoherent. E.g., “But now our hand is forced, and of course, even if St. Cyr joins in—and I suspect—well, never mind.” I swear, sentences like that appeared on almost every page.

Minor flaws, however, didn’t detract from the overall story. The characters held my interest and kept me turning pages. Goldie the dog added a human touch, or humanizing, as did Nat’s peculiar habit of sleeping like a guard dog on the floor at Luce’s bedroom door. Then there are all Luce’s comic asides, e.g., “It wasn’t coffee. I’ve seen coffee. This looked and smelled like coffee’s big brother, the one that beat up coffee and stole its lollipop.”

Luce has countless pithy lines inspired by Ben and his irascible nephew: “Laying hands on Nat Remy would be much like laying hands on nitroglycerin: only to be attempted if one had tired of living.”

Any romance in this novel is understated and authentic, which is the way I like it, and the ending is one of the most satisfying I’ve ever read. The novel can stand alone, complete in and of itself, even as it opens the door to more. With Sarah Hoyt’s busy imagination, there is no end in sight for the Good Men, even if she does threaten to kill them off in Book Six. Wish me luck talking her out of it. Hoyt pleads innocence when readers protest bumping off a beloved character. Her response to that charge, via Facebook message:

I typed that scene, looked at it in horror and thought "nooooo" and tried to rewrite it, and it wouldn’t work. I had plans for that character. My husband threatened to divorce me.

The Hoyts are still married, however, and loyal readers of the series await more of Hoyt’s bad boys, feisty women, and Good Men. (“A Few Good Men,” Sarah Hoyt, Baen Books) 4 stars —Carol Kean


Red, White, and Blue, and Alien

WORLD WAR II PILOTS TRAVELING across time and space to save an alien people may sound a little far-fetched, but Michael Reisig pulls it off with “The Hawks of Kamalon.” Even the most stridently anti-war fans of science fiction ought to love these daring, resourceful young men who take to the skies in defense of freedom. As Memorial Day approaches there’s no better time for a heroic tale of sacrifice and victory, and this one delivers with star-spangled glory.

The prologue is itself a memorial: In the farthest corner of this galaxy lies a small planet with a monument in the town square, the wing of a Spitfire, and a solid gold plaque in memory of Royal Air Force Squadron No. 51—never have so few given so much to so many.

The premise is a bold version of familiar themes and beloved archetypes, a little like Doctor Who arming the Magnificent Seven with P-51 Mustangs, with a side trip to Schindler’s List on their way to Battlestar Galactica.

The story opens on Earth in 1944. Captain Ross Murdock and his crew are busy fighting Nazis. Abducted by a desperate king on a distant planet, they find themselves in a land called Kamalon where the peace-loving Azran race are losing ground to the military might of Krete. The mystified WWII pilots are greeted by cheering crowds who hail them as their saviors, and the good king pleads his case for kidnapping them in the midst of their own war to help Kamalon out with theirs. The Azrans fight “for their mothers and their wives, for their children hidden in the hills, for that precious gift of freedom.” That may sound flag-wavingly patriotic, but some reviewers looking for historical military fiction panned this novel as (quote) “Too SyFy for me” (unquote).

“There is nothing of worth in this world that doesn’t demand sacrifice,” the kidnapped pilots decide, “and there is nothing of more worth than your land and those you love.” The future of a nation hangs in the balance. The king promises, “Your legacy to this country will be freedom. The gift this land will give in return is to write your names into the pages of history.”

Murdock and his 51 Squadron do make history, battling the enemies of Krete in the sky, the sea, and on land. Much as I hate war, I cheered like a patriot when “six of the enemy planes were gone, greasy black burns in the earth and smoking debris marking their passage. The other six, their pilots shaking with terror, were desperately twisting away toward the coast with the faster Spits and 51s on their tails. Four more fell in flaming ruin before the remaining two reached the wall and raced for the safety of the sea.” The mighty Kretes had been humbled, vanquished—until the next battle.

As in real life, the war in this book just goes on and on. Anyone who hates military fiction will want to skip over whole pages at a time. The battles sound like near-duplicates of Normandy and other WWII battles, written in vivid, burning, exquisite detail. Reisig tugs at our heartstrings with soldiers who fight to the last breath. Many a great character dies in battle. This is no book for the faint of heart. It’s an interplanetary adventure. Those WWII fighters are as awe-inspiring today as they were in the 1940s, but pit them against alien aircraft, and they triumph as never before. One of my favorite scenes is the trope of a downed man desperate for help. “Suddenly in the distance Miles heard a familiar sound. He raised his face to the sky. God! It was the most beautiful sound he could ever remember hearing, like the bells of St. Mary’s or a heavenly choir of angels—it was the throaty roar of a British Spitfire!”

Anyone who’s heard the old warbirds in real life will know that no prose is too purple to describe it. How can the silence of The Enterprise compete?

And why would aliens who have the technology to abduct warriors from another planet need their weapons in the first place? “The event that changed everything and brought us to this time of trial,” the king explains, “was the Kretes’ discovery of a monumental crystal” deep in the core of their mountains. The Kretes harness the power of the enormous crystal, while the Azrans only have small crystal-operated carriages. They had “no need to develop swifter vehicles or craft that fly. Commutation was quicker and easier.” So was their art of “culling,” a sort of “Beam me up, Scottie” without the need for special equipment. In the whirl of akamalon good story, it all makes sense. Riesig has the classic storyteller’s voice, and “It’s all about the voice. A confident, strong, enthusiastic voice will hide a multitude of sins,” says David Mark Weber, an American science fiction and fantasy author. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for that quote.) “The Hawks of Kamalon” hearkens back to the Golden Age of pulp science fiction, but I love classic tales that revel in man-made technology and heroes while memorializing the sacrifices of war.

I also love the subplot in which the pilots find a way to rescue some of Hitler’s condemned Jews.

Unlike Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers,” which wasn’t about war so much as freedom, morality and the right to vote, this novel illuminates the uniquely human horror of invading armies annexing a free people, with a whole industry of high-tech strategies to kill, kill, kill each other. War is a necessary evil; peace-loving people must fight to the death in order to preserve peace. There was no ignoring the Nazis, and for Murdock’s crew and the Azrans, no avoiding bloodshed with the Kretes: “These were men who did not understand compassion; their occupation was violence and pain, and they liked their work.” At all costs, they must be stopped.

The carnage is unbearable. “For two long hours cannons roared, shells whined overhead, and smoke filled the air. Men shouted, wounded cried out and courageous souls rushed forward, clambering up the wall to take the place of those who had fallen.” That’s just one battle. I couldn’t slog through these scenes if not for the promise of victory: “To the Hawks of Kamalon!” and “The roar of the crowd shook the foundations of the city half a mile away.” All that pride and glory, though, are forever darkened by memories of the fallen, the lives sacrificed for the good of the whole. Science fiction is such a great vehicle for lamenting our human folly while rejoicing in our occasional triumphs.

“The Hawks of Kamalon” does wax romantic and a little red, white and blue when it isn’t turning purple, but the military dialogue sounds about right to me: “You’re up against Englishmen and Texans, the toughest bloody combination there is on any planet!” and “Miles, however, was one of those individuals who not only had boulders for balls, but talent to boot.” This is a classic story full of heart, valor and ingenuity, sky-high ideals, and above all, unforgettable characters. It’s the sort of book one can enjoy reading twice. (“The Hawks of Kamalon,” Michael Reisig, Write Way Publishing) 4 star—Carol Kean


Fountain of Truth

CANCER IS SOMETHING THAT touches all of us if only faintly. If it hasn’t touched us personally it reaches its cold fingers into relatives, friends, or acquaintances. Science and medicine have come a long way from the death sentence of yesteryear, but it is far from a cure. If we are lucky enough to escape cancer we still fall prey to old age. Would a cure for not only one but also both of these problems be a blessing to mankind, or a curse?

In Ben Bova’s “Transhuman,” Luke Abramson is seventy-five and feeling his age. He is a brilliant cellular biologist. His research is celebrated in many scientific communities. Through the manipulation of telomeres, Luke has been able to reverse aging in lab rats. Only Luke is facing a problem that he feels almost helpless in, his eight-year-old granddaughter, Angela, has a rare and inoperable brain cancer. Her doctors are giving her six months, but Luke thinks he can cure her.

Right out of the gate, Bova doesn’t waste time. We get a large dose of the science behind Luke’s research. Telomerase accelerators can keep the chromosome from shortening with each duplication: in other words, keep the user from aging or reverse aging. But Luke wants to reverse the process in his granddaughter, inhibit telomerase production and limit the cancer growth and eventually kill it off.

The hospital is unwilling to allow Luke to experiment on his granddaughter so he makes the decision to kidnap her and take her to a medical facility owned by a friend to run his tests. As he is trying to sign her out of the hospital, her doctor, Tamara, confronts Luke. Luke explains that she is already written off as dead so his experiment is the only chance she has. Surprisingly, not only does the doctor agree, she decides to join Luke on his quest.

The FBI sends special agent Jerome Hightower, a massive Native-American, after Luke. Agent Hightower quickly locates Luke and Tamara and asks them to stay put as no formal charges have been filed. While the two agree, as soon as Hightower gets out of their sight, they escape again. Luke decides he’s too old to be running around the country from the feds so he convinces the doctor to start giving him the telomerase accelerators.

Their quest begins to draw attention from high up the food chain. Billionaire Quentin Fisk is his sole financial sponsor and sees Luke’s research as a goose laying unlimited golden eggs. The White House sees Luke’s research as catastrophic to the economy and sets out to stop him. While everyone is chasing him, he is becoming younger, stronger, and faster. But at what cost is anyone’s guess.

Manipulating telomeres in order to reverse aging isn’t a new idea and Bova didn’t have a lot to add to it. Keeping the ends of chromosomes from shortening in order transhumanto live longer does open the body up for extremely high risks of forming cancer. The idea of using targeted accelerators and suppressants is kind of an interesting idea. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of explanation in the book. It is almost as if the characters whip up some magical concoction to inject and get better. It is good that Bova showed that this line of research could lead one to drown in the Fountain of Youth.

Bova isn’t great at writing thrillers. The chase across country causes our suspension of disbelief to be strained a few times more than it should be. However, he did populate “Transhuman” with enough likable characters to root for; we can overlook the silliness that seems to crop up here and there. The love story is strained, as usual in a Bova novel. He can’t seem to write very good interpersonal relationships in his novels, and yet he always manages to cram them in, anyway. I feel like he redeemed himself more here by having such a variety of quirky characters. Even though they still behaved like sixteen-year-olds with base instincts—make money, get the girl, get the answer—they did so in a much more fun way than in some of his other novels.

While the novel lacked the hard science in any volume it did bring up a very real concern in the scientific community. Companies, pushing profits over benefits, can exploit research. And science can be suppressed due to perceived fears (in this case living longer and defeating cancer causing the economy to crash due to the poor structuring of social security and medicare). Bova paints an overly rosy picture of how a balance could be found; he may actually have the makings of another novel just by fleshing this idea out more.

“Transhuman” is a fun, short read. Ben Bova takes an older idea and puts a human face on it. Nothing earth-shattering here but it is definitely entertaining. (“Transhuman,” Ben Bova, Tor Books) 4 stars —Adam Armstrong