cover image THE SECRET OF LIFE


Paul J. McAuley, . . Tor, $25.95 (413pp) ISBN 978-0-7653-0080-5

Having completed the Books of Confluence, his much-praised trilogy set in the distant future, Clarke and Dick awards winner McAuley (Shrine of Stars) here tries his hand at a near-future, hard-science thriller. The year is 2026, and the world is still recovering from the Firstborn Crisis, a virus that threatened humanity's continued existence until it was stopped by a team led by the brilliant biologist Dr. Mariella Anders. Now, however, a new plague has appeared—a strange growth in the waters of the Pacific containing genetic material that apparently originated on Mars. With two other crack scientists, Mariella is sent to the red planet, where she soon discovers that one of her colleagues, an employee of Cytex, the genetic engineering company that's partially funding the mission, knows considerably more about what's going on than she does and has motives that are far from altruistic. Indeed, it eventually becomes clear that a number of private companies, governments and radical green organizations all want a piece of the strange Martian lifeform called the Chi. The author's main targets are corporate greed and left-wing Luddism, both of which he sees as antithetical to good science. Mariella, a misfit who, despite her fame, lives in a trailer in the Arizona desert and has a passion for both piercings and rough sex, is a thorny but believable protagonist. Although not quite the equal of his Confluence novels, McAuley's latest should appeal to fans of thoughtful hard-science fiction. (July 16)