A sweeping sci-fi, nuclear disaster thriller with religious and metaphysical undertones.
Tran’s first novel, the opener in a planned trilogy, stretches the suspension of disbelief by attempting to unite numerous subplots, background stories, scientific and spiritual concepts in a careening narrative of global danger. From the opening pages, danger is forcefully, excessively established: Professors, senators, doctors and grad students are attacked and killed off in seemingly every storyline, which makes it difficult for readers to discern the plot and invest in the characters. An early victim, professor Flaubert, whose assassin later plays for the good guys, developed a “microelectronic device capable of mapping out the brain” and replicating neurological states in exact molecular detail, allowing life to be extended or restored. He’s killed for this so-called Cartesian Machine, since a madman named DeBoreas, who lives on a ship and aims to blow up the moon, also wants to live forever. DeBoreas and other Middle Eastern and Russian supervillains hold the world hostage with nuclear weapons as they search the globe for the machine, which the professor and a Dr. Feldman implanted in the brain of a young boy. The author seems most at ease in the world of Eric and Meike, a couple of biophysics grad students who share an obvious, almost sweetly childish romance. They have the most coherent, accessible narrative, especially when compared to awkward depictions of the White House Situation Room. The scientific aspects—digital transcription of the mind, enhancement of neurobiology through technology, the complicated relationship between bodily death and brain death, the seat of the human soul—are theoretically fascinating but obliquely approached in dubious scientific terms, and the narrative similarly circumvents difficult existential and philosophical questions in favor of simpler ideas. Frequent grammatical and semantic errors can be distracting, too.
Conceptually interesting but overly cartoonish and in need of editing.