Bourbaki Gambit

Carl Djerassi, Author University of Georgia Press $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-8203-1652-9
The second entry (after Cantor's Dilemma) in his projected tetrology integrating science with fiction again finds Djerassi, professor of chemistry at Stanford and the inventor of the oral contraceptive, less successful as a novelist than as a scientific thinker. Here he tries to combine an accessible depiction of the research scientist's insular world with an ingenious academic hoax, but this flat, plodding novel fails to come to life. Organized by Max Weiss, a senior Princeton biochemist demoted to researcher, the gambit is a secret team of disgruntled veteran scientists working and publishing under a single alias, a fictional identity free from the scientific community's prejudices. This cover collaboration works well until they develop a breakthrough in DNA replication, the Polymerase Reaction Chain (a genuine recent technique). Then egos clash and exposure looms. The book is best when rendering the hard science into narrative form, such as the group's collaborative discussions, culminating in their revolutionary brainstorm (explained in near-layman's terms). Though Djerassi's characters are intended to address timely issues of gender and age discrimination in the scientific community, as well as the larger concerns of reputation and creation, they merely embody these discontents and arguments as case studies. A sluggish setup and the anticlimax of the group's exposure give this novel the vitality of an academic conference paper. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/1994
Release date: 09/01/1994
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-14-025485-3
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