A brilliant, idealistic student’s noble intentions go horribly awry in Duringer’s sci-fi novel.
Graduate student Susan Rotham had a difficult childhood. Growing up poor, she and her family often struggled to find adequate food, which sparked a desire in her to dedicate her life’s work to finding a way to eradicate world hunger. As an aspiring scientist, she dreams of creating a supervegetable that could provide all the nutrients necessary for survival and be grown without soil or water. She believes her work could complement the research of Dr. Robin Mallory, a respected authority on a species of air plant called Tillandsias. The supervegetable could save millions from starvation and ultimately promote equality among all classes of people; however, world financial markets could be disrupted by the presence of a safe, abundant source of free food. Working in secret, Dr. Mallory and Susan successfully develop the supervegetable and call it Tillandsias aetherolus. The vegetable lives up to its promise, helping millions around the world and bringing fame and fortune to Susan and Dr. Mallory. But unexpected mutations threaten the survival of the planet. Duringer’s imaginative scenario traces the development of the Tillandsias aetherolus, its effects on the planet, and how the world is ultimately changed by this well-intentioned, genetically engineered vegetable. The first half of the novel is the most successful, with the action moving at a brisk pace as Susan and Dr. Mallory move from university labs to the jungles of Ecuador in a race against time to create the vegetable. Motivated by a genuine desire to help humanity, they are aware of the potential risks to the global balance of power; however, they don’t realize that unintended consequences could be even riskier than financial disruption. These consequences are explored in the second half of the novel, as Susan and Dr. Mallory try to restore humanity and the planet. Though imaginative, this section lacks the philosophical conundrums that made the first half so enthralling.
An intriguing premise rooted in provocative philosophical questions, but the promising beginning is undermined by a weak second half.