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The Secret of Life [Mass Market Paperback]

Paul McAuley
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 19 2002
2026: Something is growing in the Pacific Ocean, a strange fungus-like organism that may threaten our entire food chain. Christened "the slick," the bizarre phenomenon is quickly the subject of intense, top-secret analysis-which rapidly reveals that it contains DNA unlike that of any other life on the planet.

Where is it from? A Chinese mission to Mars is rumored to have discovered life beneath the Martian icecap, but the Chinese aren't talking. Dr. Mariella Anders is recruited by NASA to join an urgent mission to the Red Planet to find out. Brilliant and committed to science, Mariella wants only the truth, but others' motives are less noble. Faced with corporations, activist groups, and superpowers, each with their own secret agendas, Mariella is on a perilous quest for knowledge. . .and she's about the discover the high price of truth.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Having completed the Books of Confluence, his much-praised trilogy set in the distant future, Clarke and Dick awards winner McAuley (Shrine of Stars) here tries his hand at a near-future, hard-science thriller. The year is 2026, and the world is still recovering from the Firstborn Crisis, a virus that threatened humanity's continued existence until it was stopped by a team led by the brilliant biologist Dr. Mariella Anders. Now, however, a new plague has appeared a strange growth in the waters of the Pacific containing genetic material that apparently originated on Mars. With two other crack scientists, Mariella is sent to the red planet, where she soon discovers that one of her colleagues, an employee of Cytex, the genetic engineering company that's partially funding the mission, knows considerably more about what's going on than she does and has motives that are far from altruistic. Indeed, it eventually becomes clear that a number of private companies, governments and radical green organizations all want a piece of the strange Martian lifeform called the Chi. The author's main targets are corporate greed and left-wing Luddism, both of which he sees as antithetical to good science. Mariella, a misfit who, despite her fame, lives in a trailer in the Arizona desert and has a passion for both piercings and rough sex, is a thorny but believable protagonist. Although not quite the equal of his Confluence novels, McAuley's latest should appeal to fans of thoughtful hard-science fiction.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In 2026 Earth is troubled by the usual mixture of corruption, big business, and twisted technology, but life goes on for biologist Mariella Anders. Her holistic approach, piercings, and blue jeans alienate some of her peers, but her brilliant solution to a worldwide fertility crisis can't be denied. When tapped to go to Mars to investigate rumors that the Chinese have discovered life at its poles, she goes with an adversary, scientist Penn Brown, who represents the conglomerate Cytex. Brown is to make sure Mariella doesn't pass the discovery (and attendant profits) on to NASA. The mission is tense and politicized, but things really go awry when the Chinese on Mars send a distress call concerning a deadly virus. Penn and Mariella struggle over the U.S. response but must really run the gauntlet when they return to Earth with Martian ice samples. McAuley thumps the pulpit for science and reason but always leaves room for the shrewd, passionate, ultimately hopeful human face in this vital contribution to Martian sf. Roberta Johnson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars moronic characters - mildly interesting science Feb. 5 2004
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
How could the guy who wrote the books of Confluence - Ancients of Days etc., have penned this stinker? Why do all English Caucasian male
SF authors write from a female heroine narrative? I swear that the last ten books I have read by English White male SF authors
could have been written from the same generic template.
McAuley goes one better - we actively dislike the STANDARD FEMALE
HERO. She takes drugs, sleeps around with darn near anything and her closest friends are a lesbian couple who have "their own"
daughter via implantation. How PC!!!The Flight Engineer of the crew to Mars is a college and state football hero, mandatory brown skin, who "habitually wears a baseball cap turned sideways" with a "PH.D in the esoteric
mathematics of eighteen dimensional space" -you know how relevant
rappers are in advanced math! When I read this I almost fell out
of bed laughing. Why do we always have this racist drivel pumped out by male caucasian SF writers? Ursula Leguinn can handle
a variety of skin tones and biological makeups that have
dignity and value and dimension -this seemingly escapes her male
If I wanted to read some standard politically correct,I am a modern kind of accepting-guy crap, I would venture to the new age section of the bookstore and not the Science Fiction section.
When the book is not offending you with two dimensional half-wit
characters, McAuley seems to be offering some mystical, cloudy,
objection to Dawkins et al, perspective on evolutionary genetics
without ever actually saying what the alternative might be, outside of some kind of 'holistic' approach. Please, Paul, stick to space operas -you really shine there, but lighten up on the Politically Correct crap - we are all getting very tired of cartoon characters.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A stirring saga of science, Mars, and life Dec 29 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Rating: "A-". A stirring saga of science, Mars, and life, marred by a
weak ending, but well-worth your attention.
Paul McAuley's usual topics and tropisms are well-employed in
this new biotech SF-thriller. In 2026 a Martian microbe, secretly
brought back to Earth by a Chinese expedition, is accidentally
released into the Pacific during an attempt to steal a sample by
Cytex, a powerful but unscrupulous American biotech firm. The
Mars-bug thrives, and grows into strange floating islands, which
shed 'slicks' that kill terrestrial marine life. The descriptions of
this strange alien invader are reminiscent of Ian McDonald's
wonderful _Chaga_, with a nod to H.G. Wells' _War of the
Worlds_. I'm not fully-qualified to judge McCauley's biologic
premise (and MacGuffin), which it wouldn't be fair to reveal, but
he's done his homework -- I'm weaselling here because of a
research lapse I'll mention a bit later, but rest assured his premise
is just fine for fiction. Is there a biologist in the house?
The Americans send an expedition of their own to Mars, hoping
to duplicate the Chinese discovery. The expedition scientists
include Mariella Anders, our protagonist and a biological genius
on the level of a Feynman or an Einstein. Like most geniuses
(genii?), she is unconventional: Mariella's foibles include body-
piercing, soft drugs, and rough sex. This last is used for blackmail
by Penn Brown, an odious Cytex scientist also on the Mars
Mariella is a high point of the book, and McCauley's best
character yet, I think.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Great concept...but a disappointing execution. Oct. 28 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I found McAuley's Secret of Life to be both a disappointing and difficult read. It's disappointing because the premise is excellent. A Martian organism with the ability to evolve rapidly by modifying its own DNA is released on Earth. Many exciting possibilities are immediately raised and the opening chapter is full of excitement and drama. The story follows our heroine as she attempts to retrieve a live sample of the organism from Mars and then her efforts to study the organism and release those results to the scientific community.
But the truth is the story fails to explore many of the scientific possibilities of this premise. The organism languishes passively in the ocean, while the story focuses on preaching for the virtue of open science versus the evilness of big corporations. As a scientist myself, this is something I certainly would agree with...but really didn't find anything very new added to this discussion. The science is so "good" and the corporation is so "bad" there's really no tension.
The other major complaint I had (you might not be as annoyed by this) is the writing style. This is my first time reading a book by McAuley and I felt it would have been much better at about 250 pages than the 400+ that it weighs in at. All too often extraneous paragraphs are tossed in on subjects utterly unrelated to the story. Here's a simple example (one of many). The heroine is discussing with someone how they should travel together. The other poor fool mentions something about horses and we then get a paragraph as our heroine internally recalls her childhood pony. What it's name was. How she loved it, etc. They then decide to take a car. In the right hands this could lead to greater character depth...
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Tough to read...
Ok, I'm not actually done with the book, but even as an avid reader, I found it hard to get started with this book. Read more
Published on July 18 2002 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars delightful science fiction mystery
About a decade into the future, the United Kingdom and much of the world struggles to recover from the Infowar that erased most computer records. Read more
Published on April 30 2002 by Harriet Klausner
4.0 out of 5 stars More complex that you might think...
I am amazed at the short memory of many professional reviewers. Many seem to think that this is a major change of direction for McAuley, a deliberate turn to the more commercial. Read more
Published on Nov. 21 2001 by flying-monkey
2.0 out of 5 stars Lost In Space
A real plodder. Too much "2d human values" vs spirited Joan of Arc stuff. Not enough wow/insight/future-shock/smart-tech. Read more
Published on Oct. 9 2001 by Bibi
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Mars scenes, interesting speculations
Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick Awards, McAuley ("Confluence Trilogy") sets "The Secret of Life" in 2026, when global warming has submerged... Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2001 by Lynn Harnett
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class Science And Exploration
This near term hard science fiction novel covers a lot of territory, the politics of science being one of them, Paul McAuley is a scientist so he illuminates some of the... Read more
Published on Aug. 19 2001 by Kevin Spoering
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting science, terrible characters
Having read - and thoroughly enjoyed - the Confluence trilogy, I picked up Secret of Life without even scanning it. Read more
Published on July 24 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars No plot, just philosophy
I got halfway through the book before giving up on it. If you want to read different philosophies of scientific direction and human behavior, this is the book for you. Read more
Published on June 23 2001 by David A. Lessnau
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
In 2026, humanity faces a new crisis. There is a humongous biological growth in the Pacific that threatens to destroy the food chain. Read more
Published on June 9 2001 by Harriet Klausner
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