Review: Transhuman by Ben Bova

Transhuman coverAward winning author Ben Bova has a knack for creating realistic characters in fantastic yet convincing settings. His readers can depend on an emotional bond with antagonists and protagonists alike. Bova’s latest novel Transhuman from Tor Books is no different.

While the book is set in the near future, the strength of the story lies more in the character drama than the fantastic elements that pushes the work into the science fiction category.

Luke Abramson is a seventy-five year old cellular biologist who is working on a new cancer fighting therapy that controls the telomeres that cap the ends of chromosomes. This discovery impacts Abramson on a personal level as his eight year old granddaughter Angela is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and with only months to live. Her parents decline any “experimental” treatment, wishing instead for their little girl to spend her remaining days in peace.

Abramson is confident in his theories. Having previously been given power of discharge over his granddaughter, and with the help of the child’s physician, he decides to overrule the parents and take her away. In a cat and mouse chase across the country, he stays one step ahead of the authorities as the trio jump from one facility to another performing his groundbreaking experiment with the slim hope of saving her life.

The chase becomes too much for the aging Abramson. Left with little choice, he injects himself with an experimental drug that has only been proven effective on a few test animals. An age reversing enzyme known as telomerase inducers shows promise as he begins to miraculously show signs of regenerative youth.

In pursuit of the trio under an ambiguous charge of kidnapping, a determined FBI agent pulls out all stops to find the girl and return her to her parents. But when the White House gets involved, it is no longer a case of abduction, but a case of national security. In the eyes of the president, the suppression of Abramson’s discovery is vital to keeping balance in a stable economy.

The science behind science fiction often overshadows the body of the work if the facts are inaccurate or skewed. I don’t claim to be an expert in the medical field and my wiki research skills are usually more harmful than good, so I relied on the author to convince me. Bova did just that. The technology was not overpowering, nor distracting. The premise and reasoning behind the cellular manipulation used to fight tumors and reverse aging was just enough to make a convening argument (and made me think – why hasn’t this ever been tried in the real world?).

And this is where we come to the point of the book. The entire journey centers on the moral issues of medical advancements and the human rights that may be obstructed by those in power. If you can save or extend a life, is it a question of obligation or choice? If it is an obligation, then who is entitled to these new procedures. And if it is a question of choice, who has the authority to make the difficult decision.

Abramson has discovered a way to eradicate cancer as well as prolong life by reversing aging. At first glance, this is stuff of dreams. But some might see this as an adverse effect on society as we know it. As the mortality rate is decreased, cities could quickly become overcrowded. And as the elderly become younger, a growing or extended retired community will drain an already depleting social security program. Could the cure for cancer and a fountain of youth actually bring down civilization?

Ben Bova has once again provided us with a thought provoking look at a possible future. Taking his realistic character approach and tying it to a curiosity for the what-if, Transhuman gives the reader a lot to think about long after the last page is turned, even without a cliffhanger.

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