cover image Frameshift


Robert J. Sawyer. Tor Books, $23.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86325-8

It's awfully tough to follow success. Sawyer, a skilled writer of SF techno-thrillers whose The Terminal Experiment won the 1995 Nebula for Best Novel, stumbles in his attempt. After learning that he has a 50/50 chance of carrying the deadly gene for Huntington's Disease, brilliant French-Canadian geneticist Pierre Tardivel dedicates his life to working on the Human Genome Project. An assault by a knife-wielding skinhead sets Pierre off on an investigation that uncovers evidence that his insurance company is secretly collecting DNA samples from its clients, and that, in order to save money, those whose genes reveal any medical disorders are murdered. At the same time, Pierre and his wife, Molly, become involved in the U.S. Justice Department's hunt for a Nazi death camp guard. Sawyer seems to have taken on more than he can handle here. Plot twists are clearly telegraphed, and two sideplots--the first involving a genetic ""frameshift"" (the source of Molly's telepathic abilities) and a second involving the discovery that their daughter, conceived through in vitro fertilization, is a cloned Neanderthal--are left largely unexplored. The novel's climax--an action sequence involving the villain's attempted rooftop escape by helicopter--is just plain silly. Sawyer's unflinchingly honest and powerful portrait of Pierre, however, who is slowly overwhelmed by the disease he hopes to conquer, almost makes up for the awkward plotting. (May)