SF Reviews background image SF Reviews logo image
Contact SF Reviews   |   Get the Newsletter 

Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

The Secret Of Life

Copyright 2001 by Paul J. McAuley

In Association with Amazon.com In Association with Amazon.co.uk
SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Mediocre (2/5)

I first read this in November 2001.

In 2025 a virulent micro-organism, "Chi", is discovered on Mars and brought back to Earth. Of course, it escapes its laboratory confinement and begins to rampage through the biosphere.

Our staunch and dedicated heroine, Dr Mariella Anders, is called upon to go to Mars to locate and study this life-form in its natural habitat and find a way to save the Earth. On Mars she will find herself struggling across the ancient landscape with team-members of uncertain loyalty, the insular Anchee Ye and Mariella's nemesis, Penn Brown.

But the US government has been cozying up rather too closely to big business, and since it was big business who accidentally let this deadly life-form loose in the first place, they are very concerned that their commercial interests do not suffer and that there is no adverse publicity, even while as a global catastrophe unfolds.

So Mariella finds her freedoms restricted, the flow of scientific information strangled by the commercial oversight and politics, particularly in the person of the repulsive Penn Brown, overshadowing everything. In the end she's going to have to take on big business if she's going to find an answer.

One of the attributes of Paul McAuley's writing is his power of his descriptive writing - this was what I liked most about one of his earlier novels, "Ancients Of Days". This time he's mixed powerful descriptive narrative with hard science (and there's a lot of science in this book) and gives the reader solid, real experiences of Mars and of various environments on Earth. Among all this is the excitement of the chase and the political shenanigans.

It is both more ambitious and more accomplished than "Ancients Of Days". The novel is readable, if you can take this much scientific detail, and it's exciting, but it's not a classic.

Loaded on the 10th December 2001.
Cover of The Secret Of Life

Reviews of other works by Paul J. McAuley:
Eternal Light
Red Dust
Ancients Of Days
Cowboy Angels
Into Everywhere