by Gwyneth A. Jones
Review by Colleen Cahill
Aqueduct Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0974655929
Date: October 30, 2004 List Price $19.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Science fiction can be as bold as exploring space ships or attacking aliens, but it can also be as subtle as a minor experiment. The latter style is what Gwyneth Jones favors in her latest novel Life, showing that great discoveries happen amidst the loves, failures, shocks and tedium of day to day.
Like many of us, Anna Senoz has all the ups and downs of living. She is a quiet, focused person and while at University, meets some interesting people, from the unkempt, irascible feminist Ramone Holyrod to Charles Craft, a student rival in Anna?s studies of botany. The varied cast of friends and acquaintances all affect her life, perhaps none so much as the American exchange student Spence Meade, who sees Anna as more than one of the crowd. Things heat up between them, but as with many college flings, it ends when events separate the two. And for Anna, this was just a temporary relationship, an experiment in sexuality. She continues on with her plans to graduate and work in the world of planet gene manipulation, hoping to discover how to feed a growing planet. But a curve ball comes her way when she is raped and she falls into a depression that ruins her chances of gaining an important scholarship. Adrift without a goal, her mentor helps her find a job at a fertility company. It paid the bills and Anna eventually planned to return to the world of botany, once she was out of debt. While working, she comes across an anomaly in the DNA of some medieval French samples, which seems a minor matter, but will grow to dominate Anna?s life. But this is a slow growth and is it only after years, her marriage to Spence, job hopping over the globe and dealing with miscarriages and births, old friends and affairs, work and pleasure, that she learns the truth of her research, a truth that causes an uproar that she never foresaw.
If you are thinking this all sounds very conventional and except for the DNA, without any science fiction, you are close to right. Jones is presenting us with a work that any of us could be a part of, as the lead character, a lover, friend or enemy. It is a vivid portrayal, with all the ups and downs of living, written in a compelling narrative and with a reality that absorbs the reader. You will find the science fiction, but it does not slap you in the face, but slowly evolves, as science usually does in the real world.
There is much more going on in this novel than I have included in my description. This is the type of book where you might not like any of the characters, but you will still find it intriguing, for as in all good stories, it is the people and their interactions that make it worth reading. Combine these real people with their choices made and passed by, plus the surprises that come to all lives and you get a full picture, one that Jones paints beautifully with a brush that is both colorful and realistically gritty.
If you are ready for something beyond ray guns and rockets, with a taste of the real world and a touch of science fiction, try Life; it will take you to a world you thought you knew.