Vitals Paperback – 4 Jul 2011
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‘Greg Bear has written an excellent thriller and one that easily ranks alongside Marathon Man or The Odessa File … From start to finish this startling science thriller trying to guess …an enjoyable and extremely readable thriller’ Enigma
‘A chilling air of highly infectious paranoia … alarmingly proficient cross-genre thriller makes The X-Files feel curiously tame and is surely destined for cult success’ Starburst
‘Brilliantly playing on our fears about government conspiracies, Bear’s remarkable thriller combines extremely authoritative scholarship with impressive page-turning skills’ Starlog
Scientist Hal Cousins is close to discovering the key to immortality but someone has already found it and will kill him to keep it secret. Vitals is a tense technothriller in the best Michael Crichton tradition. A mile and a half below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, scientist Hal Cousins, frightened of the dark and no friend of God, is looking for the fountain of youth. The Nobel Prize doesn't interest him. Hal is in longevity research for the long haul, the really long haul. 'Angels' (rich businessmen keen to live a thousand years) fund him. Hal finds what he is searching for: xenos, the single-celled tramps of the sea floor, each one as big as a clenched fist. But then the pilot of his sub goes berserk. Hal barely survives; the xenos don't. The pilot kills himself. Five other scientists in related fields die violently in the space of a week. Hal discovers a trail of death stretching back over decades, from Stalin's Russia to present-day Manhattan. Another epidemic of murder by superbly trained killers has been triggered by what Hal nearly discovered...From the bottom of Russia's Lake Baikal to a billionaire's bionic house built into the cliffs of the Californian seashore, from the darkest days of the reign of Joseph Stalin in Russia to the capitalist free-for-all of modern America, the edge of immortality is the most dangerous place to be.See all Product description
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It is very well written and the `science' all sounds quite plausible. Most of the characters are well drawn and realistic.
I felt that it worked very well as a techno thriller and that tension and intrigue were sustained throughout the book. The background details and the world building are extremely well done. It really was very interesting.
******** (Slight) Spoiler********
The ending was a little bit frustrating. I can see why the author ended it like that and I thought that it worked reasonably well. However I personally would have preferred more answers.
At the start, we find Hal Cousins on a deep bathyscaph dive to try and collect specimens of truly primitive bacteria that he thinks hold the key to the biological 'clock' that seems to control aging in all higher lifeforms. During the dive, the bathyscaph's driver, for no apparent reason, attacks Hal, and later, after surfacing, commits apparent suicide by jumping into a very cold sea. This whole scene does nothing but confuse the reader, as at this early stage of the book, none of the characters have been developed enough to allow the reader to see that the behavior of both people on the sub is slowly becoming aberrant and psychotic. I was very close to closing up the book at this point and putting it on the shelf as not worth reading. Given what followed, this impulse should have been followed.
From the initial reasonable scientific premise that Bear starts with, the plot continues to thicken with impossible conspiracies, improbable connections to biological research done in 1930’s Russia, paranoid and schizophrenic characters, and sudden jumps in the later stages of the book to new characters who are there apparently only to help further confuse the plot, rather than any rational development of the original idea. True character development is almost nil and the actions of the fairly large cast often seem to have no logical basis. Some characters are introduced and then almost immediately dropped, leading to just another stubbed off plot thread.
This book either needed a lot more pages to fully develop all the plot threads and characters, or the entire focus of the book needed to be narrowed down to a single set of ideas that were consistently developed. As it is, we have a mish-mash of partially developed plot lines and thematic ideas, none of which are fully satisfying or resolved, which Bear effectively admits with his closing round-up of questions that the book has not answered. This one is far from Bear's best.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
The book started well, and I was looking forward to learning the secret about stopping the aging process in humans. The thriller aspect was there as well (who is "programming" humans, and who is trying to keep the secret from Hal Cousins, and why?), until the story goes over the top, so to say.
It seems to me that the author had to many ideas he wanted to stuff in the book with too few pages to do it on.
The fact that there are two "I" persons telling the story is not confusing.. but it isn't exactly helpful for the plot, in my opinion.
If you haven't read anything from Bear, don't start with this one. Save it until later.