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Extra Innings Kindle Edition
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When baseball legend Ted Williams died in 2002, his son John Henry wanted to preserve the DNA that made him one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball. A process called cryogenics was used to preserve his genetic makeup. But could this really be used to recreate a baseball legend?
Bruce Spitzer's novel "Extra Innings" gives us a glimpse of what might happen with this science. In the year 2092, William's head and brain are surgically attached to the body of a young tennis player who died in an accident. The surgery is performed at the CryoCorp headquarters by the world-renowned Dr. Elizabeth Miles. What follows is a story that covers many topics and may even be considered a futuristic biography of Williams.
Being a reader of sports books first and foremost, I was not disappointed with the baseball aspects of the book. These did not take place until about 25% into the book, as Williams had to first adjust to his new body in a new era. Major League Baseball is much different than during the "first" Williams' time, with teams all over the globe, a longer season of 200 games thanks to warmer weather, and the elimination of human pitchers. His introduction to the "Botwinder", the robot pitchers who use technology to throw fastballs at 120 miles per hour, was one of the many humorous parts of the book.
Another aspect of the game that is addressed is the use of performance enhancing drugs. In 2093, the first season in which Williams plays for the Boston Red Sox, every player is using some form of a drug. Williams staunchly refuses to do so, and initially performs remarkably well without them. Without giving away too much of the baseball story, Williams and the Red Sox both have roller coaster rides during the second baseball career of the "Splendid Splinter."
However, there are some baseball traditions that are kept. Despite most of Boston being flooded now, Fenway Park still exists, complete with the Green Monster, but is now called Fenway Island. Players (human ones, anyway) are still introduced and take their place on the baselines to applause by the fans, and
Spitzer develops the "second" Ted Williams character with painstaking detail, ensuring that his personality, characteristics and mannerisms are kept the same as the person Red Sox fans in the 1940's and 1950's grew up worshipping. Williams was as well known for his love of fishing, his foul language and his dedication to the military (Note: there is a lot of cursing in the book by Williams, so younger readers and parents should take note). Ted even repeats history by interrupting his baseball career in 2093 by joining the Marines by becoming a pilot.
Military combat is next for Williams, and the book does a good job of placing the reader in the cockpit of his plane and in his mind. When Williams' wingman is killed after her plane is hit, the reader feels the anguish in his mind. Even those who have never served in the military can feel comfortable reading this and will understand the camaraderie that is shared by Marines. The second Ted Williams underscores the Marine motto of "Semper Fi."
Spitzer also touches on other topics that can be considered controversial, and does a good job of not tipping the reader or the story one way or the other about them. These include climate change, the existence of Heaven, and the aforementioned performance enhancing drug use in baseball. The climate change has already taken place with warmer temperatures year round and the flooding of some major cities.
Ted has many more ups and downs during this second life, including brawls, romance, time with children (another aspect of Williams that is remembered here - the time he spent in hospitals with kids) that is wonderfully portrayed in his interactions with the young son of Dr. Miles, Johnnie. These are all interwoven in the story of the baseball season and the military missions. No one part of the story seems to be interrupted when another is taking place - they are all interwoven together to create a well-written novel that is worth the time to read. A very good look into the possible future of cryogenics, baseball and life.
Did I skim?
During the military combat chapters, I did skim a few of the paragraphs with more complex military vocabulary. As long as I understood what was happening, such as the jets being fired upon, I felt that I was still able to follow the story. No skimming during any other chapters.
Did I feel connected to the characters?
Yes. Even though this story takes place 90 years into the future, the reader will feel no different when any of the characters are speaking. Whether Ted is in the CryoCorp lab just after he is reanimated, on the baseball field, in the cockpit of his fighter jet, or even just having a chat with Johnnie, the reader is right there. The other characters are portrayed just as well, especially Dr. Elizabeth Miles and her son Johnnie.
Pace of the story:
Very good. Whether the topic is Ted adjusting to life in the late 21st century, the action taking place at Fenway Island, or flying missions over the Middle East, the story moves along and does not get bogged down in too many details.
All topics covered, including baseball, science, and military, are well researched and written in language that will be easy enough for a reader not familiar with them to understand, but at the same time not too basic as to bore those with a lot of knowledge of the topic.
The more controversial topics were handled well. While the story does show what would happen if one side of the issue happened (i.e. for climate change, the world's temperature did rise enough to melt ice caps and in baseball, players are using performance enhancing drugs), Spitzer does not portray these as controversial. His writing simply describes them as something that happened or is taking place now and the world is adjusting.
At times, I did feel that the particular topic was getting to be too dominant. Depending on where I was in the book, I wondered if there would be a very long section on science, on Ted's budding romance, or on military fighter pilot training. These suspicions did not last long, however, as when this started to kick in, another chapter with another topic began. Hence, the good pace to the book.
Do I recommend?
Yes. This book covers many topics that will appeal to a wide range of readers. There is enough baseball action that sports fans will enjoy it, but also readers who like political topics (climate change), military topics (Middle East conflict), and romance will also enjoy this book.
Some ninety years after his death, Ted Williams wakes up in a hospital wondering how he got there. Frankly, his doctors, not really expecting quite such a successful "reanimation," are soon almost as shocked as Ted himself. Accounting for Ted's relatively quick recovery of a fully functioning body is that his head has been affixed to the body of a young tennis professional who was killed in an accident that conveniently (for Ted, not for the tennis pro), destroyed his head in the process of killing him.
Although the set-up for all of this is a little long, particularly as it involves Ted's physical therapy work in the hospital, don't give up on it because you will miss the fun if you do. Extra Innings might be closer to a stand-up triple than a home run, I never complain about good, solid triples. Just as in real life, Ted's story has two distinct chapters: an illustrious baseball career interrupted by service to his country at the behest of the United States Marines. In fact, I felt a little like the Ted Williams character himself when the book suddenly shifted from a baseball story to a war story. As the fictional Ted Williams put it, "It was as if his life was a novel, a baseball novel, and in the middle of it an entirely different book broke out." Don't worry, though - it's all good.
Bruce Spitzer, with any luck, will find quite a broad audience for Extra Innings because the book should appeal to baseball fans, science fiction fans, environmentalists, and fans of military fiction. It is not the most serious piece of fiction out there, but amid all the fun, I came away from it with a new appreciation for Ted Williams, the man, and what he accomplished in his life - and wondering how I might live my second life differently if given that chance.