cover image VITALS


Greg Bear, . . Del Rey, $24.95 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-345-43528-6

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)