Book Review: Transhuman

transhumanI know I’ve read one or more science fiction novels written by Ben Bova before, but I can’t recall which one(s). However, the cover of Transhuman, published in 2014, boasts of him being a six-time hugo award winner, so this should be a pretty good novel, right?

Turns out, all six of those awards were for Best Professional Editor when he was working at Analog, not for any of his written works, although he is certainly a prolific author.

I was interested in this tale because it involves a grandpa and his little granddaughter. Being a grandparent myself, I know I’d do anything to protect them, which is exactly what 74-year-old Luke Abramson does for his eight-year-old granddaughter Angie.

You see, Angie’s dying of an inoperable cancerous brain tumor. She’s got six months or less to live. But Luke is a cellular biologist and believes a new technique he’s developed can cure Angie’s cancer.

Her parents refuse because he’s not even past the rat lab stage, which is also why the medical review board of the hospital refuses.

Luke will not be deterred and convinces Angie’s attending physician, Dr. Tamara Minteer, to help him check Angie out of the hospital and take her from Boston to a research facility in Oregon so he can complete her treatment.

At the same time, Luke convinces Minteer to regularly administer him his own experimental drug which progressively makes him younger.

The science on this, while present, was pretty thin. It seemed like Bova took some information and tried to expand upon it while lacking the knowledge to make it seem convincing.

Frankly, I’m guilty of the same thing, which is why sometimes fake science written to sound convincing is better than using real science when you lack a full knowledge of how it works.

Also, flat out, there would be no way Luke possibly could have convinced Minteer to make off with Angie, even though legally, he could sign her out of the hospital since he was the one to sign her in. It’s still against parental consent, and frankly, dangerous as hell.

Fountain of youth or not, Luke still shouldn’t have been capable of giving the “beat down” to at least two of the men that he did, nor should it have been so easy for him to escape FBI Special Agent Jerome Hightower. FBI Agents aren’t that trusting.

Bova let his characters become entangled in a hopeless trap on a secret Army medical research base in the wilderness of northern Idaho and then made it possible for them to get out of there nearly scott-free, even with the President of the United States and one of the wealthiest industrialists in the world breathing down their necks.

To his credit, Bova did create a great deal of suspense. In spite of the obvious disappointing elements, I did want to find out what happened next and how everything was going to end up.

However, the characterization seemed flat, even the main characters. I had the feeling that Bova was attempting to flesh them out, but it was tough for me to get past the fact that they were characters and not people.

Even the title seemed misleading. I got the impression from the word, that the ultimate conclusion of Luke’s work would be to have people transcend humanity entirely and become a new breed of sentient being. All we’re really looking at is a flawed method of curing cancer (the cure nearly killed Angie) and having people live to maybe 150 years while taking on a significantly increased risk of developing cancer.

I got the book from the public library, so I’m not out a dime, but I must admit, this isn’t a book I would have spent money on, or at least not more than a couple of bucks for the Kindle edition (and as of this writing, the Kindle edition is $8.99).

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