Near-future biological thriller from the author of the dazzling far-future Confluence trilogy (completed with Shrine of Stars, 2000), etc. In 2026, a huge invasive biological growth, the Slick, floats in the Pacific Ocean. Proof against all attack, the Slick may contain DNA that originated on Mars. (Previously, a Chinese expedition to the red planet found life but denied having done so.) Now, NASA organizes a voyage to Mars to find more of the Martian organisms (probably in a reservoir of liquid water beneath the planet's north polar cap) and learn how to control or destroy the Slick. A second Chinese expedition, however, is already on Mars, drilling into the icecap. NASA's team includes genius microbiologist Mariella Anders, who believes science should not depend on profits, and her professional and personal nemesis, Penn Brown of Cytex, for whom the profit motive drives research. Brown soon blackmails Mariella into supporting his leadership and, therefore, Cytex's monopoly on knowledge garnered during the trip. But as Mariella and Brown approach the Martian icecap, the Chinese scientists blow up their bore-hole and flee, having been infected with a Martian organism from beneath the ice. Mariella grabs samples and tries to reach Earth in the Chinese ship, suspecting that the Martian organism has incalculable significance for future human development. But can she outwit both Cytex and NASA?
Spectacular ideas, life-sized characters, credible and provocative politicking and maneuvering: a pity, then, about the present-tense narrative, which intrusively smothers any developing sense of drama.