Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July Blog Tour: The Enclave, by Karen Hancock (II)

This is the second of three (intended) posts on The Enclave, the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour selection for the month of July.

[My deep apologies for spelling errors throughout - I am away from my usual computer and this one's word processor's spell check is set for French. (And not for any interesting reason, either.) I hope to correct this tomorrow.] Fixed now!

Thanks to everyone who commented so far - I haven't had a chance to read other people's posts yet and it's making me nuts.

First post is here, and covers my general likes and don'ts, packaging, writing strengths, etc. Today I want to focus more on the science and the science fiction in The Enclave.

Short version: there wasn't enough of either in the book.

That doesn't mean I didn't get wrapt up in the last 200 pages and that I didn't enjoy reading the book. (And the book does get a partial pass because it is billed as 'science fiction/fantasy'.) Just that I didn't think the book I was reading was science fiction. And I think that - especially for a book dealing with cutting-edge biotechnology - there wasn't much science in it.

(And here's where I think I have to say what SF is - aside from 'what I'm thinking about when I mean SF'. So I will turn to wikipedia, that last refuge of the despairing, and say look here.)

Science Fiction

As I said in my first post, the book had less science fiction than I would have preferred. While just what kind and to what extent any particular book is going to be science fiction rather than mystery or action or military adventure or even literature (to use a wildly non-specific word to describe a work centered on beauty and use of words in the act of story-telling) will vary from book to book, I feel comfortable in saying that The Enclave doesn't fit the genre well.

In The Enclave, there were several avenues that I think could have been pursued to increase the "sci-fi" feel of the book, and still told essentially the same story.

1) Lost World/Secret Society - With the character of Zoan and 'the enclave' itself, there existed the opportunity to dig deeper into the culture and mannerisms of the people living there. (Sci-fi is really pretty good at sociology thought experiments.) While the society itself was quite young - the oldest were no more than their early twenties - I think there was plenty of time for language drift and for the development of traditions and rituals, especially among the children. Some of the culture and daily life of the Enclave was shown, but most of it was top-driven, not organic, and not 'new'. A bit of punching up - especially of the post-apop feel of the enclave - could have helped. So could have more details about the lives of the Wives.

2) Inventions of (- and applications of -) New Things - Swain's stated goal was to "change the world and make everything new". Yet there was very little made new in the story. When new things were shown, as when Swain showed Cam the 'failed' clones through the doors as they passed, it was as end results and not as a process. Swain's presentation, as well, made very little mention of present day genetic advances and listed nothing that his institute had done, except for the not-yet released fast-healing technique. Cam was introduced as a brilliant geneticist, but I can't find where any of his accomplishments were noted. (If anyone reading this knows where I missed this information, I'd appreciate it.) The only kwel new stuff shown were the clones themselves - and all without discussions of any other sort of cloning - plant or animal.

(It's possible this was part of a deliberate choice on the part of the author - perhaps the message was only God can create new things. Which would be fine, if we didn't already have wheat with salmon anti-freeze genes, off-the-shelf insulin made from GM bacteria with human insulin genes, and cloned sheep, cats, and dogs.)

3) Sense of Wonder - For this reader, in science fiction and fantasy both, this is big. I want the story to amaze me, to make me want to see in person what is on the pages, to actually be there. Except for the scene where the Nephilium hatch (and a few of Cam's flash back scenes) the sense of wonder was mostly absent. Part of this, I think, is that, except under the influence of either Swain or God, the main characters weren't awed or amazed.


Okay. I am not a research scientist. I am absolutely not a geneticist. But I have conducted (and written up) more than one post-graduate experiment (all in life sciences, mostly in animal medicine) and visited institutes of higher learning as well as commercial research labs. I saw that Our Heroine (Lacey) AND Our Hero (Cam) were researchers - geneticists, even - and I was anticipating a book that dug into their lives and used their work - their professions - as integral parts of the plot.

For me, The Enclave didn't deliver on this. Now, there's possible reasons for this - the author wanted to focus on the faith parts of the story, and weave in the might of God through the Nephilium, and for that purpose, Lacey and Cam could have been computer network administrators or energy plant technicians or public relations experts instead of researchers, and they could have found the same shady goings-on of Swain and co. The story didn't have to be about research scientists. (Note: It's partly my fault for setting up expectations about what the story should be instead of letting the author tell the story.)

Here are some of the things that jumped out at me that seemed to be significant shortfalls in the science story telling or just didn't seem right:

- The loose frogs all over should have seriously wrecked someone's experiment - either by mixing up batches of different frogs, messing with their environment to the point of invalidating any findings, or just altering their growth/aging time line by the different light and heat. Lacey should have made some note of this - even if only thinking "thank goodness that it's not the experimental tank that got left open, just the new incoming frogs".

- As mentioned above - just what did Cam do, to make himself such a hiring coup? Maybe he had excellent benchside technique (not likely, given the Frog Tank Incident) but possible. Maybe he had taken some previously over-looked genetic code and, in sequencing it, established a new sequencing protocol. Maybe he'd cloned some knock-out frogs with a really useful set of characteristics.

- What, besides freezing people, did the health spa do? Was it feeding some extra-enriched food? Sun filters?

- Lacey as Frog Girl is the care-taker for the animal rooms. What does this entail? Does she feed the frogs? If so, what? What sorts of things are being done, experimentally wise? What kind of animal care schedule does she have to keep to? Does she get attached to different frogs?

- Cam as flightly but brilliant scientist - what was he doing with his frogs and gels? He kept checking them, but I missed the part where even an outline of the purpose of his experiment was given. Don't remember what the other scientists were going after, either. Some researchers I met were very quiet people. Others, you couldn't get them to shut up about their latest project.

- While I agree that reading abstracts and writing up journal articles takes about a zillion more hours out of a scientists year than the general public realizes, I was disappointed that this was about all the science 'work' shown in the book.

- I wanted more details about the general maintainence in the Enclave - water pipes, animal health, what they grew for the animals to eat.

- Cam, who in the book was already established as an overly-thinky sort of guy - what did he think about as he watched frogs metamorphosing from swimmers into hoppers? This would have been a great place to merge his thoughts on science, and the influence of genes as we know them to work now, and the wonder of the cosmos God made, and the transformation of fallen humans into saved. (More on this when I talk about the Christian aspects.)

- The clones, the Nephilium and the Nephilium/clone hybrids: I didn't really buy this. Partly because I'm a hard sell on "rediscovered secrets of the Ancients" and "amazing off-world technology that we miraculously learned how to reverse engineer without killing ourselves" -

- although, you could argue that in this case, Swain failed to manage to not kill himself -

- and partly it's because there wasn't enough buildup. I could have bought the magic third eyes that killed helicopters if I'd seen, say, frogs with third eyes, or golden skin, or something similar. Starting small, building up. Get me past the "there ain't no such critter" and then bring out a human with a third eye. As for the clones - there wasn't any hint (that I caught) that the experimental animals (frogs) were cloned, so the human clones came out of left field. Further more, even though the book is placed about a decade into the future, Zoan's age meant that basic cloning would have to have been started well before Dolly the sheep. Again,that's a step too far, too fast for me to buy in this story.

This part of my review has come out rather negative, I'm afraid. The up side is that I was really more pleased with the faith/Christian aspects of the book. That, and the over-all positive things I talked about last post, mean that I think the book was still a good read, even if it wasn't told how I would have told it, or written to specifically please me.

If there are other life-sciences oriented people out there, I'd be interested in hearing if they were bothered by the same things - or if they weren't! Karen Hancock is described in the back blurb as having a degree in biology. Jason commented yesterday that he had done an interview with her - I hope to get over there tomorrow and check that out. Perhaps there were comments on the science/SF parts of the story.

Again, fine print:

Featured book, The Enclave - http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0764203282

Karen Hancock’s Web site - http://www.kmhancock.com/index.htm
Karen Hancock’s blog - http://karenhancock.wordpress.com/

Other CSFFBT Participants’ Links:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Grace Bridges
Melissa Carswell
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Janey DeMeo
Jeff Draper
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Heather R. Hunt
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Mike Lynch
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen
John W. Otte
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Elizabeth Williams


Rachel Starr Thomson said...

I would have loved more science in the book, and from your suggestions, I think you'd make a great developmental editor ;). But I didn't really go into the book with expectations, so I wasn't let down. I DID think the book was mis-billed as sci-fi. Thriller, yes. With scientific elements, yes. Science fiction, not so much.

Anne said...

Rachel -

It's a bad habit of mine, to want to read the book in my head, instead of the one in print before me.

Karen Hancock in her blog talked about how she was fighting space and time limitations to get the book done. I can see that! And I'm not sure what I would have cut out, to leave more room for science. (Except maybe fancy dress parties.)

And yes, action-thriller, not sci-fi.