REVIEWED: The God Gene

God gene

The God Gene by F. Paul Wilson (SF novel, 2018).

Wilson’s new novel is a direct sequel to Panacea with the same two lead characters (Dr. Laura Fanning and former CIA agent Rick Hayden). There are frequent references to that work and before the main plot of The God Gene comes to fully dominate things, there’s a subplot tying up bits from the earlier book to be resolved. The title Panacea is an extraordinary medical cure-all and the use Fanning puts it to here develops her character for readers in emotionally satisfying fashion.

In any case, this one stands on its own very adequately. I can say this with assurance, since I haven’t read Panacea yet experienced no difficulty understanding or appreciating what was happening here.

This time, Rick’s disfunctional family situation comes to the fore when his brother goes missing. Keith is a prominent evolutionary biologist and author of a best-selling popular science book. Rick hasn’t spoken to him (or any of the rest of his wealthy, quarelsome family) in years. But Laura encourages him to contact their adoptive mother and get involved in the investigation. Once he’s committed to it, Laura naturally dives into the mystery as well–in the previous novel they became an unwitting team. And while neither is anxious to admit it, there’s the potential for more than a mere “friendly” relationship building between them.

They piece together clues to Keith’s inexplicable disappearance, which somehow relates to a strikingly unique, unusually imitative and bright primate he brought back from Africa. Meanwhile, a related storyline has been unfolding over there. What is the connection between Keith’s vanishing act and an obsessed Afrikaaner’s quest to find the unknown habitat of this previously unknown species. And what does it all have to do with the title bit of genetic material supposedly found exclusively in the human genome?

A trip to Mozambique and the part of the Indian Ocean between it and Madagascar eventually becomes inevitable. Protective Rick repeatedly tries to get Laura to stay safely behind as things take progressively more ominous turns. But they’re a team and her presistence wins out, again and again.

Eventually, the key figures come together on the uncharted volcanic island where the blue-eyed primates (called dapis) live. There’s also with a crew of exotic wildlife smugglers out to get rich via these peculiar and amazingly quick-learning creatures. Long before this final, epic confrontation, we know (as our heroes don’t yet) that there’s a dangerous fanatic in their midst—-armed with nerve gas!

Then a thuggish smuggler’s brutal actions incites the dapis to a violent response. Things turn deadly on multiple fronts. I will say Rick and Laura survive (no ongoing series possible, if they didn’t), but I’ll give no detailed spoilers here.

Wilson is a practicing physician and predictably handles the biological speculations here most surehandedly. How this small island somehow escaped detection in our modern world requires a lot more of that ever-popular willing suspension of disbelief. I’m also a tad leery of the assumption that this (uneroded) volcanic island is millions of years old.

I seems clear (at least to me) that the story of “living fossil” coelacanths partially inspired Wilson’s creation of the Dapis. These fish were long thought extinct for centuries, known only by fossilized remains. Local Indian Ocean fishermen occasionally caught one, but had no idea what this weird looking fish was. In time, one presented an example to a noted biologist and it was realized that, while rare, they still existed.

The trouble with using that as a template for this novel is that, with rising populations and demand for fish, ever more boats were out there, looking for fresh supplies all over the area (and casting nets ever deeper, which is how the living coelacanths turned up). All that makes an “uncharted” island even harder to justify. Which I’m sure is why Wilson ignored this precedent of an “ancient” type of creature suddenly appearing in the mdoern world.

But I managed to get past these doubts to find the book a strong, page-turning adventure. Like Panacea (and much else of Wilson’s work), this novel is SF set in an otherwise recognizable version of the present day, only there are many strange things are concealed from public view. In fact, following the novel there’s a brief outline putting titles of his whole “Secret History of the World” cycle in chronological order.

Moderately recommended.


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