cover image Maximum Light

Maximum Light

Nancy Kress. Tor Books, $22.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86535-1

Set in a near-future world beset by a declining birthrate and chemical pollution, where children are cherished not only for their increasing rarity but also for their earning power (a quarter of the American population is over 70), Kress's (Beggar's Ride) new novel finds the Hugo- and Nebula-winning author (for the novella ""Beggars in Spain"") again pitting social activism against wrongheaded or shortsighted thinking. The story is related by three intertwined narrators: Shana Walders, a teenager whose dearest desire is to enjoy an army career; Nick Clementi, an elderly, terminally ill physician who hopes to be allowed to die peacefully and with dignity; and 22-year-old Cameron Atuli, a gay ballet dancer who, for reasons integral to the plot, has had his memory wiped. These disparate individuals come together after Shana accidentally discovers monkeys that have had human faces ""vivifactured"" (genetically grafted) onto them. Though illegal, these creatures are highly prized in a world where healthy children are frighteningly rare and genetic research (the only apparent cure for much of society's ills) is against the law. Kress's plot moves briskly and her premise grips, but her characters' interactions with government agencies come off as unrealistic or simplistic at times, and the novel's moderately happy ending seems forced. (Jan.)