Archive for the 'Thrillers' Category


Friday, May 18th, 2007

I spotted Stigma, a first novel by Philip Hawley, Jr., on the new book shelves at the library. Although I prefer science fiction, sometimes I can’t resist a medical thriller with a nice, juicy disease. The disease in question was a mysterious autoimmune-style reaction to (the reader must suspect) that new vaccine approach every other character in the novel is working on.

The medical side of the plot took some interesting twists and turns, but it was overshadowed by the more physical exploits of the ex-Navy SEAL emergency-room physician, his ex-girlfriend, and his mysterious nemesis. This was frustrating for me because when I read a medical thriller, I want the heros wearing biohazard gear and the extras bleeding out of their eyes. I’m not so interested in the hand-to-hand combat in South American jungles and the specially-modified Glocks.

Definitely at the point where the hero stops the imminent threat of worldwide contagion, he should be using his new vaccine rather than a block of C4. But if you like the heavy-handed ex-SEAL approach to epidemiology, then Stigma is for you.

Dreamsnake, Prey

Saturday, March 22nd, 2003

Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre won a Hugo and a Nebula - that’s how I heard of it. I’ve always thought of her as a Trek writer, but it turns out she’s written other original stuff. This novel is set in a post-apocalyptic world where the heroine, Snake, is a sort of 1970’s Xena - she does it all on her own or with one unexpected female sidekick, while her boyfriend spends the novel wandering about the radioactive desert following her elusive trail.

Dreamsnake is most interesting, and sometimes most annoying, for its brief tangents into technology and sociology. Although genetic engineering is the main form of technology, only certain people practice it - to everyone else it looks like magic. One adventure in the middle of the book is centered around teaching and using one’s biological ability to kill gametes and zygotes. Another adventure takes the reader to the gates of Center City, where a paranoid civilization bars itself behind impassible walls, but the glimpse within is frustratingly brief. Everywhere there are signs of polygamy, or perhaps polygynandry (group marriage) - I can’t say which because the practice is never commented upon or explained. Near the end the contents of one sealed dome are revealed and used, but not accounted for.

Taken together, Snake’s travels fill out a novel but they don’t quite coalesce into a novel-length plot. Her trials are all dead ends from which she retreats, until she stumbles over her goal purely by accident. The setting overpowers the plot, making this an example of the milieu story (Orson Scott Card’s terminology) in which a character explores a world. If you’re in the market for a new world, check Dreamsnake out.

Prey by Michael Crichton is a medical thriller about nanotechnology programmed with simple behavioral routines that runs amok. For all the explicit scientific background (don’t trip over the info-dumps), the novel takes a twist into horror that is neither convincing nor scientific. Most of the novel (up until day 7) was a very good adventure, though, and if you’re not inclined to nitpick you might want to pick it up.