How is it possible that a book about early DNA science could be so mind-numbingly boring? Perhaps being written in 1978 by real biochemists is the cause. We’ve all been heavily educated by Hollywood on the dangers of DNA manipulation since then. That doesn’t excuse pages of classroom exposition on what splicing DNA means and the dangers thereof. It has way too much technical jargon and not enough plot.
The point of the story (I think; I might have fallen asleep during the third or fourth DNA explanation) is that a strange brand of LSD called Gloryhits causes miscarriages of big-headed babies. We follow the story through the eyes of a young scientist whose wife has become pregnant after ingesting Gloryhits. Although their circle of friends, also scientists and doctors, are worried, they rejoice with the parents when the baby survives the five month in the womb deadline because none of the other Gloryhit babies have.
Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon, the military is racing to develop a DNA weapon (one that causes cancer) before the Russians. A young major has developed a super toxic strain of botulism by splicing in dangerous DNA and is hoping to finish so he can work on the super-cancer.
Sounds exciting, huh? Well, most of the story is told in the young scientist’s living room with his friends. There’s romance, arguments, disappearing dead fetuses, planted heroin, and denial of the fact that their baby might have a deformed super-brain. There are so many detailed explanations of the DNA splicing process (by both the scientists and the military) that a third of the book could be surgically removed without any loss of the story.
The characters are pretty stereotypical. The young scientist is heavily in denial that his baby could be deformed, the wise doctor is all doctory and wise, and the other characters are barely there. The doctor falls for a professor’s assistant, and they are mildly interesting as an unlikely couple. Everyone is a little slow on the uptake when the doctor finds someone planted heroin in his sock drawer right before a surprise visit from the police. The assistant gets offered a job far away that she’s not even remotely qualified for. Something’s afoot, but these brainiacs don’t seem to realize that someone is out to get them. As amateur sleuths, they’re great scientists.
Who could be behind the genetic shenanigans? Could it be the RUSSIANS? Turns out it is. They’re testing a way to increase Soviet brainpower through genetic manipulation, and eastern U.S. cities are the testing grounds. The Pentagon begins to suspect, but the scientist sleuths never do even though the Soviet mastermind is working in their lab.
Speaking of labs, these scientists never seem to do any work. They drop whatever they’re not doing to test Gloryhits on rats on the spur of the moment. Their experiments – and lengthy explanations of statistical analysis – reveal that big headed baby rats can survive to term and are shockingly smart.
Oh, and the Pentagon retaliates on this Soviet “attack” on Americans by releasing the deadly botulism, but it seems to have a 100% infection rate and no one is resistant. Oops.
Meanwhile, the scientists are interrupted in their rat testing by the scientist’s wife calling to say she’s in labor.
Actually, the up-in-the-air ending was the only interesting thing about this book. There should be a law that scientists cannot attempt to write science fiction (unless they’re Isaac Asimov maybe). This book could be exhibit A.