Monday, May 11, 2015

Review:: Transhumanism, by Ben Bova

Title: Transhuman
Author: Ben Bova
Format: Hardback
Rating: ★★☆☆☆

When you're writing fiction, especially realistic science fiction, it's important to maintain your reader's suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, Transhuman ruins it almost immediately out of the gates, having characters continually make implausible choices to make the mediocre plot continue forward.

The plot is pretty simple: a nearly octogenarian cellular biologist's eight-year-old granddaughter is dying from a highly aggressive brain cancer that isn't responding to treatment. He realizes, however, that his anti-aging research could be applied to help fight the cancer. But no one seems to want to let him experiment on his granddaughter, so he has to kidnap her and run off to put her through the treatment in secret.

It's a pretty common trope, all things considered. However, usually when the scientist goes underground in this scenario, they don't need to continually be asking other people for help. For good reason. The more people you involve, the less likely they are to go along with your scheme.

However, the protag of Transhuman gets a whole bunch of medical professionals to go along with his scheme, rather than telling him (as pretty much any medical professional would) that it's a severe violation of medical ethics to do human experimentation, even if the patient is terminal. And when the patient is your kin, you clearly shouldn't be doing anything because it's one of the biggest conflicts of interest.

But nope. Folks go along because the sob story of an eight-year-old dying of cancer is just too much. Which, having grown up with a doctor in the family, is ridiculous. Yes, it's very sad when children die of terminal illnesses. However, it's also a reality of the medical profession, and not a reason to throw ethics out the window.

Also, there's a level of grossness going on continually. It's implied repeatedly that the major reason a lot of his associates are going along with him is because... they really want to sleep with him. Yup. Attraction. A great reason to throw ethics out the window. Granted, if it were just one person, it might be reasonable. But the number of times that the protagonist is able to get people to agree to stuff they should have no reason to consent to is just mind-boggling. And ruins any suspension of disbelief.

He also gets his granddaughter's attending physician (who agrees to come along as they run from the FBI) to agree to give him his highly experimental anti-aging therapy... while he's trying to do all this. Because that's exactly what his granddaughter needs while he's trying an experimental therapy on her. To be on experimental therapy himself.

And it keeps getting more ridiculous. The government gets involved because they're so scared of this treatment getting out and ruining the economy that they feel the needs to trap him on an army base with no contact with the outside world. Now, I'm not the biggest fan of the government, but I feel like they'd recognize that there are things that could be done to handle the economic impact of a discovery like this. None of them are discussed. And no one seems to recognize that sweeping it under the rug once won't keep it from being discovered independently by someone else.

What's the government supposed to do then? Just keep trapping scientists on army bases? That won't be suspicious at all.

The characters are also pretty one-dimensional for the most part, with very simple motives and no thinking power of their own. They jump to conclusions and pretty much never re-examine them. I have to wonder if Ben Bova had a contract and just had to produce something. And so voila! Here we go, something! It's also super light science fiction, especially for being hard scifi. If it hadn't been Ben Bova writing this, it would have been classified as a basic thriller.

In fact, it probably would have gotten better reception that way.

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