The Silk Code Hardcover – Oct 7 1999
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Phil D'Amato, a forensic scientist working for the NYPD, is visiting an old friend in rural Pennsylvania--home of the Amish. When the friend with no known allergies drops dead of a sudden allergic reaction, D'Amato decides to investigate. He finds himself at the center of a 30,000 year-old biowar being waged with genetically engineered weapons. As he probes deeper, it becomes apparent that the Amish are not the technophobes they appear to be.
In his first novel, Levinson was not afraid to tackle big concepts. His narrative spans 1,300 years and several continents, from the Tocharians, a tribe living in Xinjiang on the Silk Road route around 750 A.D., to a New York library janitor who may or may not be entirely human. When the bodies of what look like recently dead Neanderthals start turning up in Toronto and London, the book revs into high gear. We hurtle through a dozen murders, theories for the origins of Homo sapiens and the demise of the Neanderthals; touch on aspects of the philosophy of science and the possibility that cave paintings are really prehistoric movies; and wrap up with an interesting vision of what humanity might have been--if only things had turned out differently.
Phil D'Amato made his first appearance in Analog, and fans of his forensic sleuthing will love this full-length treatment. It is biological SF of the Old School--plenty of adventure with no fancy writing and very little character development to get in the way of the plot. --Luc Duplessis
From Publishers Weekly
Combining Neanderthals and mechanical looms, cantaloupes and coded butterflies, Levinson's debut novel (he's also the current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America) offers a flurry of amazing prehistoric technologies, demonstrating that the mysteries of our past can be just as fruitful as those of our future. A series of strange deaths draws forensic detective Phil D'Amato (returning from Levinson's shorter fiction) ever deeper into an ancient and ongoing biological war. D'Amato's vacation in Lancaster, Pa., quickly gets serious when an Amish man is murdered, then D'Amato's good friend Mo turns up dead. Before he dies, Mo tells of his investigation into the local Amish, of their homes lit by specially bred fireflies and their possible control of deadly allergic reactions. The rest of the novel's first part works like an expanded short story as D'Amato gradually learns to take the Amish biotechnology seriously. But after a harrowing rescue from incendiary fireflies, the main plot pauses, and its second part jumps back to eighth-century central Asia. This self-contained story follows young Gwellyn on his search to discover the secret of the Neanderthals, who may yet be alive. Blending exotic travel through the Byzantine and Islamic empires with Gwellyn's growing realization that the Neanderthals are far stranger than humanity ever imagined, this is the novel's standout section. The book returns to the likable D'Amato for its remainder, as he pursues a bewildering array of murders, deceptions and ancient bioweaponsAall connected, somehow, in the recurrence of silk. Before its dramatic conclusion, Levinson's ambitious plot occasionally leaves his narratorAand his readerAat sea in loose ends and expository dialogue, but abundant, clever speculations, which creatively explain gaps in both ancient history and biology, compensate handsomely, providing more wonders than many a futuristic epic. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
There is a detour that takes us back in time to Neanderthal's, the Silk Road and some further clues. This break in the narrative threw me at first, leading me to see this first part as one short story and this as a second. But the last half of the novel moves quickly and pulls all of the ideas together nicely, while leaving events open for a follow-on story (I haven't yet read the rest of Paul's books, don't spoil it for me!).
Excellent hard-core sci-fi, especially in describing the Amish scientists doing in-depth gentics without lab equipment. The lanterns are especially cool.
Skipping ahead to read Paul's "The Plot to Save Socrates", then back to the other Detective D'Amato books.
The Silk Code" is a novel of ideas masquerading as a cross between science fiction and police procedural. Levinson takes current thinking on genetics, speculation on the relationship between homo sapiens and Neanderthals, and archaeologic discoveries on the Tarim Basin in China and then mixes them with a little bit of Amish culture, virology, and Basque history. At times the mix gets a bit out of control, but overall it coheres fairly well, certainly better than some conspiracy theory novels I've read. The idea of moth genes in the human genome is not as far-fetched as some readers have suggested--it's already known that viral and bacterial sequences make up part of our genome and that we share some genes with other animals.
The weaknesses in "The Silk Code" are a direct result of the book's focus on ideas and its origin as a short story. The characters are wooden, especially in the modern sections of the book. They have a tendency to make brief appearances and then vanish. There were times when the narrative was too sketchy, and I wished that Levinson had gone into more detail. Who, for example, was Amanda really? How did the Amish get involved in an ancient conspiracy? There are enough loose ends and unexplored backstory here for a sequel, although I don't know if Levinson intends to write one.
At any rate, if you're looking for a novel heavy on character development and world building, this probably isn't the book for you. However, if you care more about the speculative elements of the plot, it might be more to your liking.
Levinson spends far too many paragraphs with the main characters simply wondering what'll happen next, summarizing what's already happened, and stating the obvious. Read the sample from Amazon, it might be all you can stand.
In The Silk Code, the author displays a real lack of writing skill - not precisely what I expected from an author who, according to the book's jacket, is the President of the Science Fiction Writers of America, but true nonetheless. Levinson simply doesn't seem to know the first thing about telling a story. He never reveals something when he can baldly state it instead. He runs through long sequences of expository dialog - you know, the kind of thing where two characters stand around telling each other things they both must already know, simply because the author can't think of any other way of letting the reader know, too. He also has no real grasp of pacing - Silk Code's narrative races at hyperspeed through major events, never slowing even enough for a scene to start or finish; also, Levinson includes no internal indications of timing. At one point, the narrative jumps forward by a year and the reader doesn't know it for about 25 pages. These irritating flaws all come from sheer weak writing - something, incidentally, a good writers' group could have fixed.
The plot of the book is also weak. Levinson needs to realize that a random string of events just cannot substitute for a well-constructed plot. The major characters in The Silk Code dash all over the planet, using almost every form of locomotion available to man, often for no reason whatsoever. The minor characters don't travel because they die too fast.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I am always delighted to find a new science fiction author. There are simply not enough of them being published these days to suit me. Read morePublished on Jan. 20 2002 by Jennifer Juday
This remarkable novel contains one of the great rarities of popular literature: A truly original idea, namely that "advanced technology" need not involve computers,... Read morePublished on Aug. 30 2001
My wife got me this book because it is by a local author. This is the second of his books I've read and I guess I just don't like his episodic, very bland style of writing. Read morePublished on May 12 2001
This book was extremely disappointing. The characters were one-dimensional, existing only to advance the plotline (or to be murdered). Read morePublished on May 5 2001
If you're fascinated by the potential of human genome research, as I am, you'll love Levinson's novel. Read morePublished on March 6 2001 by Henry Ehrman
I thought the book was interesting but overall a disappointment. Firstly, the science was hard to believe. Read morePublished on Feb. 10 2001
Prehistoric man has been an interest of mine for many years. I look for articles about Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals in the New York Times, and I try to watch shows about them on... Read morePublished on Jan. 14 2001 by Joseph Tribio
Somehow, this book was selected as a 2000 Locus award winner. A very questionable choice, IMHO. The book is not terrible, but, I can't recommend it. Read morePublished on Jan. 11 2001