Saturday, June 20

The Immortality Factor - Ben Bova

The news that scientist Arthur Marshak is on the verge of being able to create replacement organs is met with both acclamation and condemnation. Unable to continue because of the furore, Arthur agrees to participate in a Congressional "science court" in Washington, D.C. The first of its kind, Arthur expects that the court will focus exclusively on the scientific aspects of his research and leave the messier, irrelevant aspects out.
Alas Arthur is somewhat naïve, both regarding the way the world works and about his younger brother, Jesse. A doctor who's won humanitarian awards for his work with both the urban poor and third world communities, Jesse is also the husband of Arthur's former fiancée Julia.
Though the strong underlying message is about why politics, religion and science should be kept well separated, what I was struck by was the interpersonal relationships, particularly between Arthur and Jesse. Undoubtedly coloured by current issues I'm having with family members, I was really impressed by how well Bova depicted the complex underpinnings and motivations of family dynamics. Told in first person by the main protagonists (the brothers and the bride), the reader sees how past events and perceptions colour action and interpretation, and how they are unable to see events except through these filters. Jesse, for example, views everything Arthur does as an attempt to show him up and to show off. Arthur sees baby brother Jesse, who he supported after the death of their mother, as a natural for whom everything comes effortlessly.
The more obvious plot, about pioneering research, cost, animal ethics, responsibility, foreseeability and progress in conflict with 'traditional values' is interesting, but it really was the portrayal of family that I found compelling.
This was my first Bova book, which I know is appalling for someone as immersed in FSF as I. It won't be my last. - Alex

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