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The Athena Factor by W. Michael Gear

Posted By John Holt On April 10, 2007 @ 8:52 am In Fiction Reviews,Medicine,Movies,Science,Science Fiction and Fantasy | No Comments

The Athena Factor
by W. Michael Gear
Forge, 476 pp.
CLR Rating:

Interesting Ideas Not Fully Realized

In The Athena Factor W. Michael Gear explores the compelling and in many ways horrifying world of biotech engineering, principally in the form of DNA research and manipulation. While this book is fictional, what the author describes is not.

Gear writes a novel based on the reasonable premise that many of us would like to have children with many, if not all, of the traits of famous people – individuals like Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and, yes of course, Elvis Presley. In the case of this novel a world-famous actress named Sheela Marks is also of high desirability. While reading the book, it came as a bit of a shock that Gear didn’t mention any famous writers, painters or musicians, but then I guess I’m naïve here concerning the notion of “desirability.”

Marks, who earns $20 million a picture, is returning from winning her first Academy Award one night in LA when she is attacked by a man wielding what looks to be a syringe. Her entourage protects her and the assailant escapes. Daily headlines are rife with curious assaults on celebrities – a shorn lock of an actor’s hair, bed sheets swiped from a star’s hotel room, a dart in Brad Pitt’s rear end. Apparently stardom ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Marks turns to the head of her security, ex-marine Lymon Bridges, for protection and ultimately love. Bridges promises that the actress will never be victimized by these bizarre attacks again. He hires Christal Anaya an ex-FBI up-and-comer who was drummed from the august bureau for behavior unbecoming an agent near the climax, an appropriate word here all things considered, of an investigation of a major criminal. Anaya soon discovers that Hollywood can hold its own with any felon when it comes to twisted behavior. She eventually tumbles onto Genesis Athena, a corporation shrouded in secrecy, stealth and mystery and owned by a multi-billionaire sheik.

Gear’s examination of a future where DNA research is out of control is an appropriate one, especially in light of new discoveries in this field that are revealed with growing frequency. Cures for every terrifying form of cancer and many other diseases are but a few laboratory steps away. But then so are clones of all of us.

Gear continually posits and examines the question “Who owns our DNA?” The individual or various biotech firms who are climbing and scrambling over each other to patent each one of us. This isn’t fiction as Gear points out. Ever wonder where all of the excess blood drawn from all of us goes. Is that mildly painful finger prick or vein insertion as innocuous as we’ve been led to think. Perhaps the gentle reader believes that medical facilities dispose of all of it, at least the quantity that isn’t used for legitimate purposes like the production of insulin. Guess again.

Gear, who holds a master’s degree in archeology, has worked as a professional archeologist since 1978. He is currently the principal investigator for Wind River Archeological Consultants. With his wife, Kathleen O’Neal, he has written the international and USA Today bestselling First North American series and the Anasazi Mystery series. He lives in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

I first tumbled onto Gear while researching a book I’m working on about canoeing the Yellowstone River. His two nineteenth century novels on the region, Morning River and Coyote Summer, are clearly impeccably researched and each narrative along with the dialogue has the ring of historical veracity. Yet for some reason I struggled through each book. The subject matter and landscape are of great interest to me, but neither title grabbed me in “hot-damn,” page-turner fashion.

I was surprised to see that Gear has turned his attentions to more contemporary issues when I discovered The Athena Factor. Again, this one shows a great deal of research, comprehension and a remarkable ability on the author’s part to explain complex subjects in down-to-earth ways. No easy task when one takes on subjects that include molecular biology. Still and once again this book like the other two didn’t grab my attention. The pace and style moved with more speed and fluidity than Morning River and Coyote Summer, but something’s missing that I’m unable to explain. And no single passage, even an extended one, makes my point.

Perhaps the problem is me and a subjective one. I don’t know.

The ideas and concepts are fascinating, the characters are believable and the settings work, but overall The Athena Factor doesn’t quite cut the proverbial mustard. And the variously plots developed throughout the narrative are given short shrift at the end of the book. If I rated this book higher than three stars, I’d be forced to give books by a number of other writers six or seven stars; and that would be a bit silly.

I don’t dislike The Athena Factor. I believe that because of its subject matter it is worth reading. The book merely failed to excite me.


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