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THE BOURBAKI GAMBIT

In Stanford chemistry professor Djerassi's second attempt (following Cantor's Dilemma, 1989) at a genre he calls science- in-fiction, science thrives but fiction is anemic. His themes, announced in a rather didactic foreword, are the graying of Western science and the conflict between collegiality and individual scientists' personal ambition. The narrator, Max Weiss, professor emeritus of biochemistry at Princeton, seeks revenge against a system that forces retirement on people who are still productive. Borrowing an idea from a group of French mathematicians who for years published collectively and anonymously under the pen name Nicolas Bourbaki, he conceives of a stunt designed to show the establishment just how creative oldsters can be. Abetted in this venture by Diane Doyle-Ditmus, a driven feminist historian with access to grant money, Weiss gathers a diverse group of aging scientists with similarly bruised egos: Hiroshi Nishimura, a Tokyo biochemist with a penchant for poetry; Sepp Krzilska, an Austrian molecular biologist; and Charlea Conway, a mathematical biophysicist from Chicago and the group's only female scientist. After establishing the reputation of Diane Skordylis, their chosen pseudonym, with a number of papers in selected journals, they hit the jackpot with a revolutionary technique for replicating fragments of genetic material. (This advance brought its real-life developer, Kary B. Mullis, a Nobel Prize in 1993.) Success spawns problems, however, as the egos of individual scientists resist being submerged, and Skordylis's true identity is soon revealed before an appropriate audience. Unlike Djerassi's memoirs (The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse, 1992), which were filled with engaging stories, not much happens here, and when it does, it happens slowly. Moments that should be dramatic have a static quality, and the dialogue frequently sounds stilted. Djerassi takes pains to make the science clear, however, and the announced themes are developed fully. No Michael Crichton thriller, but an interesting picture of how real science operates.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-8203-1652-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Univ. of Georgia

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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