The Cassandra Complex (Emortality)
by Brian Stableford
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0312877730
Date: 07 March 2001 List Price $23.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Dr. Lisa Friemann, a 62 year old forensic investigator for the city of Bristol, England, awakens in her apartment to burglars picking her unhackable locks and ransacking her apartment. On the way out they pause to paint "Traitor" on the wall, demand that she turn over whatever it is they were looking for taunt her that her longstanding lover's promises were empty words.
All of which confuses her more than a bit, because she can't imagine who she's supposed to have betrayed or what she was supposed to be hiding. Besides, Dr. Morgan Miller, a brilliant if chronically independent biologist and gifted lover had never promised her anything...it wasn't his style.
Lisa's not the only one touched by the events of the night. Mouseworld, a teeming research habitat of 500 thousand mice that had been in existence for seventy years to study the effects of crowding on behavior is gutted by arson, with no explanation, and Morgan Miller himself is abducted, his kidnappers escaping through a citywide blackout caused by a computer hack.
Clearly someone thinks Miller has a secret worth killing for, at least mice, and possible men as well, and quite likely they think Lisa is in on it. Lisa, on the other hand, suspects that it's all a mistake, because she most definitely wasn't let in on any big discovery.
With little sleep for the remainder of the book, Lisa, the Bristol Police, The MOD (Ministry of Defense), various mercenaries and a dazed researcher who suspects it's all his fault careen over the English countryside looking for clues, getting into scrapes and reflecting on what the world is coming to in the middle of the twenty first century.
Could Miller have been hiding something monumental, like the secret of immortality (though he prefers "emortalilty" as a term) and if so, whom was he intending to trust with it, a foundation started by Nazis or one started by a Jew? And where do the third wave of feminists fit into all this anyway?
The Cassandra Complex combines the thoughtful puzzle solving of English mysteries with excellent Science Fiction and a lot of illuminating social commentary and analysis. My only regret is that Brian Stableford, whose future history has been getting better and better with each book, failed to resolve all the book's mysteries in a confrontation in a sitting room.
The book takes its name from a stress related syndrome, where a person knows, or thinks they know, of an impending disaster and is helpless to stop it. You can pick your flavor of disaster, and indeed sorting among the many offered in this book is much of its point. Overpopulation, viral warfare, global corporate control, discrimination against twentieth century leftovers: they all take their turns and play their parts in Brian Stableford's latest book in the future-history series he began with Inherit the Earth. As are many of his stories, this one is based on a short story that was published in Interzone 29 in 1989, and reprinted by Gardner Dozois in the Year's Best Science Fiction.
If Science Fiction is a device to provide metaphors for discussing contemporary issues, the Mouseworld provides a metaphoric stage to discuss the issues of the novel.
Every step of the chase is discussed at some point in terms of the behavior of the overcrowded mice, from the meekness of "citizen mice" who go along with whatever demands are made on them to the notion that all cultures are ruled from without, but "Secret Masters", for the mice, researchers, for us, governments and cabals.
Stableford's notions of the future and his analysis of it's seeds in our past and present continue to grow richer and more illuminating.
Although he doesn't tend to recycle his characters from book to book, Lisa, a Forensic Detective of the near future has all the qualities a serial heroine needs. I'd be more than happy to read further stories with her in the lead, and the BBC should note that this book would adapt itself to the tube with a minimum of fuss.