She may be a full-time scientist, but E.E. Giorgi is an award-winning novelist as well–oh, and a photographer too. I’d just read her futuristic “Gene Cards” and loved the inside information on hackers, GMOs and genetics. (No surprise, “Gene Cards” just earned an award in November 2014 from Stargazer Literary Prizes.) Wanting more fiction filled with science, I bought Giorgi’s debut novel “Chimeras,” which does double duty as a whodunnit and a thriller. Triple duty if you count the literary prose and references to Greek mythology.
I wondered how a scientist came to know so much about police procedurals. Giorgi asks the right people the right questions, and they take time to answer her, and her novels read like someone who’s been there, done that, even if she hasn’t. As a bonus, this novel is full of first-hand stories from a real officer who gave Giorgi some personal anecdotes to share. I knew these came straight from real life long before I got to the acknowledgement at the end. Real people who inspire fictional characters are *so* authentic, engaging and believable. If for no other reason, readers should buy this book to hear the “moral lessons” that Detective Satish Cooper inflicts upon his partner, Track, who secretly loves these stories as much as we do, but he’s not gonna let his buddy know that. Fans who clamor for more, more, more of Satish can get it from Timothy A. Bowen’s memoir “You got photos? You go prints?” here at amazon.
Science fans fascinated by epigenetics and chimeras have come to the right place. I’m dying to say more about this subject but haven’t figured out how to dodge spoilers. Let’s just say the rabies virus did amazing things in Amy Roger’s “Reversion” (see my review in the November 2014 issue of Perihelion Science Fiction ezine), and it did even more amazing things in Giorgi’s “Chimeras.”
Perhaps I can excerpt a few scientific facts. (One thing I love about Giorgi’s fiction: she has me off to google something that sounds like it really happened, and it did.) This should be safe to share: “Tumors are made of cells. There have been quite a few case reports of cancer remission after an unrelated viral infection. In fact, viruses are used in experimental anti-cancer treatments.” And this: epigenetics, simply put, is “how genes turn on and off” and the environment we are exposed to–diet, diseases, even traumas–can screw that whole ‘on/off’ process.
In the afterword, Giorgi writes, “… if you don’t allow an author his or her poetic license you’ll miss out on the most fantastic premises. When I started writing Chimeras, my driving question was: if we have silenced predator genes in our DNA, what if a sudden life-threatening trauma were to ‘awaken’ them through epigenetic changes? What if those silenced genes were to be expressed …” (okay, I’m watching out for spoilers). While some literal-minded, exacting readers may complain there’s a lot of poetic license going on here, I’m okay with it. Bring it on! Unique protagonists like Track are hard to find among the millions of stories published every year.
Lest I keep indulging in my fascination for the science here, I’ll retreat to the safety of the book blurb: Track is an extraordinary human (he says “monster”) and detective, thanks to a genetic incident that left him with a dog-like sense of smell and hearing, and a cat-like ability to see in the dark. He introduces the reader to everyone he encounters by describing their smells and what it tells him about where they’ve been, with whom, and what they’ve eaten. In a good way, he reminds me of that TV show “The Mentalist,” with his amazing (and sometimes intrusive) commentary.
With many passages that are poetic as well as descriptive, Giorgi also sneaks in poignant insights that would be great memes to share on Facebook if anyone has time or ambition to link words and graphics. This, for example: “A private clinic and cancer research center, the Esperanza Medical Center gave the casual stroller the illusion of visiting a botanical garden. It’s a beauty meant to conceal the ugliness of the disease lurking behind the modern architecture and the glass faÃ§ades. A mirage in the desert, an attempt to pamper the heart when a cure for the body doesn’t always exist.”
The parent of a terminally ill child says, “Do you know what it is like to spend days, weeks, months, by your child’s side in a hospital, Detective? Time no longer exists. The life you used to have, dictated by morning commute, work, meetings, lunch hour–it’s all gone. A deception. A mirage of what it used to be before you realized how futile it all was.”
Another agonizing, beautifully written insight: “Time mocks you, Detective. It makes you simmer in pain, with its stubborn unwillingness to progress forward when you want it to, and its swirling out of control when instead you want to hold it back. The joy you felt at some point has vanished, like a fluttering butterfly setting on your finger. It shows you her beauty, and for a moment you think, it’s here, right here, I have it, it’s mine. And one second later it’s gone and it will never come back. You had it, but the one moment was elusive, so ephemeral you can’t stop but wonder, was it real? Or did I just dream of it?”
I love the theme of three Fates of Greek mythology and how it recurs. “The existence of every mortal being was a thread: Clotho spun it, Lachesis decided what length it should get to, and Atropos cut it when the time came.” When Track sees a dying child, he sees the three “monsters” playing with scissors on the threads of a child’s life. But “The strand wasn’t made of fibers. It was composed of two coils held together by four molecules.” The double helix. Love that image!
There’s more, much more, but I have to stop before I quote the whole novel.
Yes, there are flaws. I almost rated this four stars because of a few syntax issues, trivial typos or the fact that Track is such a jerk sometimes and the story ends as a cliff hanger (the one-star bandits really punish authors for that). Book Two is coming out soon. Wait, wait, it’s already out! “Mosaics” – and it was on sale this week, so I snagged it, so Track, Satish and the killer are ready and waiting for me in my Kindle.
Life is good.
Scientist/author/photographer E.E. Giorgi spends her days analyzing genetic data, her evenings chasing sunsets, and her nights pretending she’s somebody else. On her blog, E.E. discusses science for the inquiring mind, especially the kind that sparks fantastic premises and engaging stories. Her debut novel CHIMERAS, a medical mystery, is a 2014 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award winner.