Review by John for The Immortality Factor ~ by Ben Bova
A thought-provoking novel on the possibilities, rights and wrongs of stem-cell research and associated medical science.
About: The Marshak brothers are both brilliant doctors - Arthur focusing on leading-edge research and Jesse focusing on trying to help poor and disadvantaged sick people. While Jesse goes on to win a Humanitarian of the Year award, Arthur covets the Nobel prize.
Arthur is now head of a research laboratory, pushing back the boundaries of medical knowledge and techniques. In particular he and his team are making great strides in working out how to regenerate limbs and organs – and in the process have caused great angst among many religious groups, conservatives and people concerned about ethical and moral aspects of the research. Most importantly, as far as the arc of the story is concerned, Arthur’s own brother becomes opposed to the research.
In order to try and clear the way ahead for his work, Arthur manages to convene a “science court”, designed to help the scientific community pass judgment on the validity of the research. Inevitably the court sessions become something of a circus, straying far beyond the scientific issues and attracting the attention of powerful lobby groups, politicians and the media.
As the court proceedings come to a head, the story examines the conflict and dynamics between the brothers, some of the troubling aspects of the research and the corporate goings on in the company that owns Arthur’s laboratory.
John’s thoughts: This is great subject matter and the plot is nicely teed up, but somehow the book never quite took off for me. The main problem was the characters – they felt a bit two-dimensional and some of their motivations and actions just weren’t quite believable. In particular the relationship between the brothers and the woman they both love just didn’t feel realistic.
I do like the way that the story explored various aspects of the controversial subject matter, but even then some issues are brought up but never come close to any sort of resolution or meaningful debate, a case in point being animal experimentation and vivisection. In most instances Bova made it quite clear what his views were on issues, but on the use of animals in research I have no idea what he thinks.
I’d never read a Ben Bova novel before, and he had come highly recommended, so I was a bit disappointed with this read. It was still ok, but I was expecting so much more. I’d say this is one for Bova lovers and anyone with an interest in issues around stem-cell research. I’d rate it three stars.
Tor Books; August 2012; Trade Paperback; 480 pages (original publication -April 2009.)
Ben Bova is a prolific author (he has written and been included in 124 books) and just celebrated his 80th birthday. For more on Ben Bova link to his website: http://www.benbova.com/