HUMAN (reviewed on May 1, 2012)
First-time novelist Berke examines the tenuous relationship between the mental and the corporeal in a tale of political tug-of-war between the secret operatives of two world superpowers.
Elijah Smith, the founder of the scientific company SmithCorp, appears to have crested in old age and begun his descent into death. With the help of the precocious but scarred Dr. Bayron and Hermelinda—Smith’s nurse and lover—death isn’t the only option for Smith. Using materials imported from a Russian researcher who attempted to recreate the mind of a deceased government agent, Bayron sets out to reconstruct a digital model of Smith’s brain that effectively preserves his consciousness in a “prosthetic mind.” Though the experiment accomplishes its goal, both Smith and Bayron soon discover the dangerous knowledge contained in Smith’s hybrid mind: The Russian operative, whose memories Smith inherited, was one of three individuals who knew a code necessary to unlock an extensive nuclear warhead arsenal. What follows is a rollicking traipse through espionage stings, gunfights, and meetings between friends and enemies as two covert units, one American and one Russian, go to great lengths to protect their national—and, as it turns out, personal—interests. Despite the violence and manpower, however, it is the disembodied Smith who plays the biggest role, in a way that makes a strong claim about the potential drawbacks of immortality in a world where “once you are quantifiable, you aren’t human anymore.” Berke’s prose alternates between straightforwardness and meditation; in spite of its clockworklike plot, the novel manages to speak directly to the philosophical, theological, and biological paradoxes inherent in the idea of a human living past physical death. By the end of the novel, it’s clear that, at least for Smith, being human is not merely a matter of chemical processes, but a matter of doing the right thing.
A rough-and-tumble combination of science fiction, crime and romance that ultimately succeeds in salvaging the best from each genre to comment meaningfully on the perplexing—and often uncertain—nature of human identity.
Pub Date: Dec. 18th, 2011
Page count: 346pp
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online: April 12th, 2012
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2012