The Barnes & Noble Review
Hal Cousins was never close to his twin brother, Rob, despite the fact that both were microbiologists searching for the key to longevity. So when Rob calls to ask him if he has talked to their deceased father lately, Hal is confused and irritated, but not interested enough to follow up. He's focused on convincing a wealthy, eccentric financier to fund his controversial research.
Three weeks later, his backing secured, Hal is in a deep submersible in the Juan de Fuca Trench, looking for the primordial bacteria that long ago invaded human cells and developed into mitochondria. Hal believes that mitochondria, now essential to human cellular activity, are also the triggers for the cellular decay that leads to aging and death. Hal's hope, his all-consuming passion, is to find a way to use "mitochondrial chromosome adjustment" to stop this decay and give human beings immortality.
But deep in the trench, 8,000 feet below the surface, the submersible pilot freaks out and tries to kill Hal and wreck the sub. Hal initiates an emergency ascent, but things on the surface are no better. A scientist on the research ship has also gone on a rampage, killing several crew members while searching for Hal. Under suspicion by the FBI, Hal loses his funding, and his precious deep-sea specimens are destroyed. As devastating as that is, worse yet are the two messages on his cell phone. One is a strange warning and goodbye from his twin brother. The other is from Rob's estranged wife, Lissa, telling him that Rob has been found shot to death in a New York City alley. When a mysterious man who calls himself "K" approaches Hal with a package of documents from Rob, Hal learns that he is the target of a shadowy organization trying to stop his search for immortality. After his research is discredited, his apartment ia burned, and he's attacked on the street, Hal, K, and Lissa go on the run, trying to follow the clues in Rob's papers to the unravel identity of their tormentors and the truth behind Rob's death.
Vitals made me wish I'd paid more attention in biology class and told me more about the symbiotic bacteria that live in the human body than I ever wanted to know. But Bear does an excellent job of explaining the science in layman's terms without dumbing it down. The story takes us from the bottom of the sea to the Satlin-era Soviet Union to a top-secret facility in New York City to a venerated doctor's Caribbean paradise, all united by a fascination with the properties and possibilities of bacteria. Another bonus in Bear's books, often not bothered with in "thrillers," is the wonderful complexity of his characters. Hal Cousins is at first too arrogant and obsessed to be likable. But, as he delves deeper into the puzzle and learns some hard truths about himself, his brother, and the scientific community they were immersed in, he becomes someone who can at least be respected. The cast of supporting characters is equally nuanced, with each never being quite what they seem, to either Hal or the reader.
I thoroughly enjoyed Vitals and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants a story to be as smart as it is exciting. (K.C.)
Bear's last novel, Darwin's Radio, won the 2000 Nebula for Best Novel. This inspired but disjointed SF thriller probably won't, though you wouldn't know that from rave blurbs by Tess Gerritsen, Stephen Baxter and David Brin. The book starts strong, with narrator Hal Cousins deep ocean diving in search of Vendobionts, primitive organisms harboring primitive bacteria that he hopes will catalyze his scientific quest for human immortality. Hal finds his Vendobionts, but as the sphere carrying him and his pilot ascends toward the surface, the pilot inexplicably attacks Hal, then the sphere. All survive, but soon after Hal learns that his twin brother, Rob, has been murdered. Both Hal and Rob had been pursuing similar paths to immortality, involving research into bacteria that colonize our bodies and that factor greatly in human life span; this research has brought them both into contact with a vast conspiracy called Silk, engineered by ex-Soviet scientists, that permits mind control through bacterial manipulation, with the trigger bacteria now infecting much of the world's population, including the U.S. president. If all this sounds far-fetched, it is, though the science is sound, and Bear doesn't make it more believable with flourishes such as a spooky Silk research facility in the middle of Manhattan hiding the immortal bodies of Russian elite including Stalin, and a book-ending assault on the seaborne headquarters of Silk; these and other narrative gambits smack of the Bond ethos at its hokiest. The novel is further undercut by Bear's confusing choice to alternate narrative duties between Hal and the former naval intelligence officer whom he turns to for help. Still, Bear creates strong characters and makes his pages fly, and his many fans will likely wallow happily in his paranoid vision. 8-city author tour; simultaneous BDD Audio. (On sale Jan. 2) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Hal Cousins's investigations into prehistoric life forms lead him to nearly discovering the secret of longevity and mark him as a target by competing scientists, unscrupulous officials, and a mysterious mastermind. As Cousins tries to piece together fragments of precious clues, he uncovers a dark and deadly conspiracy that spans generations and continents. The author of Darwin's Radio continues to break new ground in imaginative and too-plausible sf, combining nonstop action and hard science to produce a powerful biotech-thriller that is both timely and frightening. A priority purchase for all sf collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/01.] Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Near-future biological thriller, very much in the vein of Bear's previous outing, Darwin's Radio (1999). Researcher Hal Cousins, close to achieving human immortality, studies primitive bacteria and DNA, and embarks on a dive in a bathysphere to capture the organisms he needs. During the dive, his companion, Dave, inexplicably turns homicidal, obliging Hal to knock him unconscious. When the sphere surfaces, Dave struggles out of the hatch and vanishes into the sea. Aboard the mothership, too, there's murder and mayhem; later, when Dave's body is recovered, Hal comes under suspicion of murder. His wealthy backer dumps him, and his twin brother Rob, also a biology researcher, turns up dead. Then, the mysterious Rudy Banning brings a package of information from Rob. Hal learns that Soviet genius microbiologist Maxim Golokhov discovered back in the 1930s how to use bacteria to control human behavior. His program, Silk, apparently rejected by post-Stalin leaders, came secretly to America and spread its means of control all around the world. Banning, a historian, ran afoul of Silk and was sabotaged by them-but is that all he is? Rob's ex-wife, Lissa, shows up-but is she a Silk operative? Is Golokhov still alive? Why is Silk preventing Hal and others from perfecting the immortality treatments? Bear whips up a marvelous froth of doom and paranoia; his ideas are frighteningly plausible, and the whole thing clatters along at a smart pace. But where it's all going not even the author seems to know, and the upshot is both baffling and inconclusive. Author tour
“Terrifying . . . Not only does Greg Bear keep you guessing, he keeps you thinking. He is a master at turning a scientific concept into a crackling good thriller.”
Author of The Surgeon
“Astonishing. I was blown away by its ferocious intelligence, astounding research and insight, and terrifying logic. Vitals is the ultimate conspiracy theory. Vitals is the future of the thriller, and a thriller of our future: Vitals is biotech noir. Read it with the light on. Prepare not to sleep easy.”
Author of Manifold: Time