Strikingly somber first novel from essayist/social-commentator Ehrenreich (The Worst Years of Our Lives, 1990, etc.), who makes full use of her Ph.D. in biology to create an America on the edge of environmental ruin and anarchy--where doomsday prophets and powerful corporate entities vie for control. The suburban family of Della Markson is shattered as the story begins: her husband deserts her after having driven their brilliant, brooding son Steve to disappear the year before. Della pulls her life together by getting a job at the sprawling, decaying Human Ecology Complex, where Steve, better known by his computer name Kipper, worked before he vanished, and slowly begins to gather information about him and the extraordinary game he was developing. She also meets her former professor Alex, a rumpled scientist with a serious drinking problem and no future, who has been ordered to prepare the biography of an obscure neurobiologist affiliated with a group of WW II Nazi scientists who researched the link between human mental capacity and the brain's pleasure center, using Jews as guinea pigs. Kipper's game turns out to accomplish similar goals, causing Della's and Alex's paths of inquiry to converge, but their steps are dogged by shadowy figures intent on gaining the information they seek for other purposes--figures from whom Kipper has escaped without telling them what he knows. When Della is finally reunited with her son, it's a brief, furtive event that culminates in his death, as well as her husband's, but not before Kipper safely passes on his knowledge to someone who might make good use of it. Complex and convincingly bleak, but more a novel of social and philosophical ideas than a technothriller--and generally lacking the sharp dramatic edge that would appeal to a wider audience.