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You kids get off my lawn. 

Darwin's Radio - Greg Bear I started this one, because the actual book I'm reading is too hard to read when I'm sleepy. So I'm kind of cheating on my actual book, but it's okay, because I still really love it, I'm just looking for something dumb but pretty that won't ask me too many questions. Richard recommended this to me because he knows I'm a sucker for plague narratives. So I start in, and the book is written is in that SF style that's this odd mixture of perfunctory yet florid. The absolute pinnacle of this sort of prose can be found in anything written by Kevin J Anderson. And when I say pinnacle, I mean that he's the absolute freaking worst, and it makes my eyes bleed big sad drops of blood and hatred just to think about it. Man, I need a tissue.

There, all better. I don't want to say that this is anywhere near as bad as Mr. Anderson's hackery, because it's not. But it's got that third-person, shifting back and forth between points of view thing that you know will snick up into a big conference of meaning or something, and sometimes I just can't bring myself to wade through it to the payoff. So, Richard and I are driving back from the grocery store, and I'm asking him if I should finish reading it, or if I should just go out and read the other book on hold at the library that's been buying me drinks and giving me that look. Eventually, he asks if I just want the synopsis, and then I can decide if I want to experience it for myself.

Richard then gives me a synopsis so funny I nearly drive into oncoming traffic I'm laughing so hard. I can see the oncoming traffic people thinking, “Chicks in minivans, man, who lets them drive?” I wish I could recount the synopsis in full, but I can't. According to Richard the “action” of the book consisted of such scintillating events as: first, they formulate a hypothesis! Then they take tissue samples! The samples are then mailed in for testing at the CDC! Finally, after several weeks of waiting, taking more samples and discussing hypotheses, the results come in and THEIR SUSPICIONS ARE CONFIRMED! Can you believe this? It's the ripping world of mid-level bureaucrats doing field work! Quick, somebody organize a conference! Maybe a continental breakfast will be involved!

Poor hard SF, because the working of science, at least when it comes to disease research, is horribly boring. The trouble is if you dispense with actual science, in plague fiction, and make the hunt for the cure something stupid like finding one monkey that's befriended a tow-headed moppet, a la Outbreak, then everyone cries foul and points out that actual science doesn't work that way at all. Because science is almost always done by mid-level bureaucrats who worry about funding and seniority, and spend countless hours trying to craft a double-blind study that runs for 9-18 months, then the numbers are crunched, samples are sent off to the lab, and the paper gets published, and a bunch of wankers who don't know boo about anything point out that your control group had a disproportionate number of people who play cricket or the wage-disparity thing, and that dickweed at the AP soundbit your comments to make it look like you claimed you cured baldness, and now you have to do another study, which is fine, because that's how science works.

Rollicking, right? I mean, here, right now, in the world, there are ongoing epidemics of very, very awful diseases going on at all times, and if they're not called “swine flu” or “SARS” nobody gives a crap. Or plenty of people give a crap, but for the cure for AIDS isn't going to happen with some lunatic shouting Eureka! and injecting himself with whatever magical potion, and proving to us all that he was Right All Along, but we, in our hubris, Just Wouldn't Listen. I'm sure there will be a double-blind study in there somewhere, or two, and certainly hours upon hours writing grants. This isn't even getting into the exciting world of resource allocation when it comes to preventing ongoing outbreaks, like wrangling for funding for mosquito nets or fighting about condom use and clean needles. Boy, I bet the funding requests to WHO read like a bestseller, I tell you what.

I'm now reviewing the synopsis of a book given to me for comic effect, but whatever. Sounds like Bear decided not to go for the whole monkey-eureka thing, but instead went for the true-to-science thing, which is bold choice, I must say. Go hard SF! Mid-level bureaucrats race to get the samples back, by which I mean wait a month, the samples confirm their suspicions, they get in a pissing contest with the head of the CDC, and politicians ignore their findings, because that's was politicians do. It sounds like there's some silliness with Indian reservations and people rioting, but I wouldn't actually know anything about that, because I didn't read to the end.

Sadly, I think Richard was trying to get me to finish this book, but the attempt backfired. I think I'm now going to slink off to the pages of the other illicit book I have on hold at the library.