A retiring academic finds himself on the run and in control of information that might well bring down the global oil industry.
Physicist Paul Cochrane has no idea why his feckless older brother Michael asked him to come out to California for a visit. And it looks like he won’t be finding out anytime soon. Michael is dead upon Paul’s arrival at his Palo Alto lab. Bewildered, Paul returns home. But when a pair of industrial spies show up at his door prying for information, the picture becomes a bit clearer. Michael, it seems, had figured out a way to separate hydrogen atoms from water molecules using cyanobacteria—a process that could produce enough hydrogen to power the world, ending reliance on petroleum and bringing the oil industry to its knees. Needless to say, there are many parties interested in the idea—one of which killed Michael and several of which are now after Paul. Foremost among them is oil baron Lionel Gould—a villainous presence seemingly borrowed from the screenplay of a James Bond spoof. Also on the trail are Michael’s old boss Jason Tulius, UNESCO bureaucrat Zelinkshah Shamil and a band of ill-mannered Chechens. Helping Paul stay one step ahead of these various characters, meanwhile, is the distressingly beautiful Elena Sandoval—a freelance spy who, despite apparently being the world’s most desirable woman, still can’t help but fall madly in love with a nervous academic with no discernable charms save for, perhaps, a certain flair with a fencing saber.
And therein lies Bova’s main problem: His plot and prose are serviceable, but his characters’ motivations and psychology (or, what passes for it) are so frequently ridiculous as to call the whole enterprise into question.