By Greg Bear; Read by Jeff Woodman
3 Cassettes – 5 hours 16 minutes [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Random House Audio
Published: January 2002
THEMES: / Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering / Immortality /
The edge of immortality is the deadliest place of all…Hal Cousins is one of a handful of scientists nearing the most sought after discovery in human history: the key to short-circuiting the aging process. Fueled by a wealth of research, an overdose of self-confidence, and the money of influential patrons to whom he makes outrageous promises, Hal experiments with organisms living in the hot thermal plumes in the ocean depths. But as he journeys beneath the sea, his other world is falling apart.
I like Greg Bear’s work, I really do. Or at least I did before listening to Vitals. I truly savored previous Greg Bear audiobooks, the novels Blood Music and Queen Of Angels and the collection of his short work entitled The Wind From A Burning Woman are all really great listens even though somewhat difficult to follow. Unfortunately Vitals sounds more intriguing in theory than it is in execution. I really cannot think of a single good thing to say about the novel’s construction. It takes the interesting ideas from Blood Music and then ineffectually recycles them into an aimless plodding story. The central conceit, that bacteria are taking over the world in an unpredictable way, is blatantly stolen from Blood Music, Bear’s best work. But Bear doesn’t refine his ideas, instead he adds in a completely bizarre character viewpoint switch in the middle of the story, and later another non-sequitor changes the time period for even more exposition, backing and filling to detrimental effect.
What’s worse, Bear decides to eliminate what few interesting characters there are and finally puts us out of our misery with an unresolved ending. Vitals is like a bad action movie jumping from one scene to another without rhyme or reason. It’s one big train wreck of a novel. Bear has truly fallen and he can’t get up!
This is an abridgement and surely we could argue that a bad abridgement can really hurt an audiobook, but somehow I doubt adding more words to this mess could have helped. Jeff Woodman did his best with what he was given; his narration was very good and clear, with distinct characterization of voices. The cover art falls into the category of “bland non-specific” which so pervades novels these days.
Posted by Jesse Willis