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Second Genesis    by Jeffrey Anderson order for
Second Genesis
by Jeffrey Anderson
Order:  USA  Can
Jove, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

As you begin reading Second Genesis, Jeffrey Anderson's provocative thriller, you might first give some thought to these questions: What makes a human being human? Is there such a thing as a soul, and does a human being have one? Does any other living creature have a soul? And how does the notion of intelligent design or God factor into your answers to these questions?

Now consider the following questions: If scientists could create new life (perhaps even a different species), should they be encouraged, or should they be regulated or prohibited? Moreover, if that new life-form were as intelligent as human beings (or perhaps even superior to human beings), how would that affect your answers to these question? Finally, considering the possibility implicit in the preceding questions, are there any ethical limits to that kind of scientific research?

Now, with those questions (and your answers) in mind, here is a brief introduction to Second Genesis.

When we join the action of physician-author Jeffrey Anderson's Second Genesis, Jamie Kendrick, a Yale-trained biologist and mathematician from Indiana, has been working for two years with a research group on the Rio Vicioso in the jungles of Brazil. However, when the intriguing opportunity presents itself, Jamie jumps at the chance to work at a different, nearby research facility; it is there that scientists (neurophysiologists, primatologists, embryonic biochemists, and others) are conducting certain experiments upon non-indigenous primates, ostensibly in conjunction with reproductive-health and stem-cell research.

Jamie soon discovers, however, that at least one of the primates has disturbingly singular characteristics and cognitive abilities. The sentient, intelligent primate in question may actually be a new and different species. When she queries the research-site's scientists and expresses her concerns, she receives the ominous explanation: 'It's about time someone took control of evolution.'

In short order, frightening problems arise. The curiously anthropomorphic primate suddenly seems to have changed the rules of the project at the research facility when it enlists the support of its simian cohorts and sets about to alter the primates' circumstances and environment.

Then, when three scientists are found dead, Jamie and others are understandably quite concerned about who (or what) might have been responsible for the deaths. So, they try - often ineffectively - to forestall any other horrific problems. But it may already be too late because Jamie 'stumbles upon shocking new discoveries - the unethical origin of the project, where the terrifying experiment is ultimately headed, and its potential to render humanity obsolete.'

Dr. Anderson's chilling novel, a disturbing descendent of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and all of its progeny, struggles mightily to succeed as an uncomfortable view of a plausible, probable, not-so-distant future in which characters (and readers) must confront the implications of a world in which science operates without limits. Filled with escapist excitement, unnerving scenarios, and adventuresome characters, Second Genesis - in spite of all its strengths, especially its chilling conclusion - too frequently gets bogged down when characters rant and rave at length about scientific ethics and teleological speculations. Nevertheless, for readers who don't mind large doses of didactic dialogue along with their larger doses of provocative excitement, Second Genesis offers plenty that is interesting and entertaining.

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