Book Review: Transhuman

Transhuman by Ben Bova


Luke Abramson, a brilliant cellular biologist has one joy in life, his ten-year-old granddaughter, Angela. When he learns that Angela has an inoperable brain tumor and is given less than six months to live, Abramson wants to try an experimental new therapy that he believes will kill Angela’s tumor.

Her parents object and the hospital bureaucracy blocks the experimental procedure because it has not been approved by the FDA. Knowing that Angela will die before he can get approval, Abramson abducts Angela from the hospital. He plans to take her to a private research laboratory in Oregon.

Luke has turned his old SUV into a makeshift medical facility, treating Angela as best he can while they are on the road, desperately trying to keep his granddaughter alive long enough to give her the treatment he believes will save her life.

Abramson realizes that he’s too old and decrepit to flee across the country with his sick granddaughter, so he injects himself with a genetic factor that has successfully reversed aging in animal tests.

As the chase weaves across the country from one research facility to another, Luke begins to grow physically younger, stronger. He looks and feels the way he did thirty or forty years ago. 

But will he be able to save Angela?


One theme that I like that authors explore is the genetic engineering and real science in their stories and Transhuman definitely has this promise. Last year and this year I read some books that had some nice thought provoking elements like those of Stephanie Saulter, her Gemsigns series, that makes you wonder about certain subjects. Being a laboratory technician in my day hours I have learned about the genetic modification when I was still in school it has been something of debate in the last years, where the boundaries should be places when it comes down to humans and crops. What got me further excited about Transhuman is that it is written by six-times award winning author Ben Bova, this is my first Ben Bova book so I can't say anything about the others. 

In the start up of his story Ben Bova doesn't spare you one moment and directly confronts the reader with the problem. The granddaughter of Luke Abramson, Angela, is diagnosed with an incurable and inoperable brain tumor and is given only 6 months more to live. Luke with all his knowledge in the field of cellular biology, comes up with a few ways to possibly save Angela's life but is compeltely blocked and shut down by the board and this leaves him with only on remaining option. That is to kidnap Angela and apply his experimental treatment on her that theoritically should stop her tumor growth, it has shown great response in mice... Luke is getting to an age that running cross country isn't as easy as when he was 20, and uses himself as a human experiment to get his youth back. In his race to save Angela, Luke isn't alone. Angela's doctor, Tamara, gets played the guild card by Luke and he more or less forces her to join his cause, because the hospital can't do anything only his experimental treatment can save Angela. Soon after this Luke and Tamara find themselves in a race across the country visiting some of Luke's old friends and avoiding the FBI. Added to this comes the fact that some different parties also seem to show interest in Lary's work, a wealthy businessman and to my surprise also the U.S. government, it seems that what Lary has unearthed with Angela and his own can be catastrophic for not only the U.S. healthcare but also for the rest of the world. 

I do have to say that the initial start up of the story was very sudden from moment to the next you are suddenly into the midst of the action and "kidnapping" of Angela by Luke. It took me a few pages to get adjusted to the storyline. Once it hits this science aspect, it rang many bells and put a smile on my face that Ben Bova used just this topic in his battle against cancer. It doesn't say on the back just what the miracle cure was of Luke for Angela, but if you have had any cellbiology at school I think you know what telomeres are and what telomerase does. I won't go into to many detail but it basically comes down to this. Telomeres are the ends of the chromosomes that shorten with each cell division, so they get shorter with each replication, and thus mark the finite "life-span" of a cell. When they run out the cell dies. Cancer cells show infinite replication, the cells cant die. So what if you could inhibit telomerase? The medical field has been testing this quite intensively, however with changing this activity in the whole but there are also side effects that arise.... These side effects are also explored and aren't all that pretty. I have to say that I was very impressed with the science aspect that Transhuman offered. Really great stuff. And if you think about it, what else are universities and big pharmaceutical companies up to? Are these king of things closer than you think?

For the characters, I did have some divided thoughts. On one part I was won over by Luke's drive to save his granddaughter but due to the pacing I found all his actions just to convenient and slightly superficial, and sometimes missed the placing of the "thriller" aspect because you could clearly guess that everything would turn out to be a-okay in the end for Luke. Yes you can see by his character that he was taking risks for both himself and his granddaughter but take for example the chase of the FBI where he overpowers an agent quite easily or just manages to escape very easily which is then later turned to the fact that there weren't any charges placed against Luke so the FBI agent just went alone, well in a kidnapping? However eventhough I have a few minor squabbles this didn't take away that this isn't a page turner, you will be wanting to see how this story finishes. Especially so when you see what other parties are interested in Luke's lifeswork and what all else is possible. 

I enjoyed Transhuman a lot, for the large part this is a great medical thriller, though provoking and with a nice dose of action. Ben Bova does a great job in telling and emphasizing the science bit of his story and being a laboratory engineer this is something that I really appreciate in such a book. However there were some minor part where I thought Transhuman could win some ground and that is mostly by setting up a stronger characterization and a better and more believable manhunt for Luke. When you read the American new when a child gets kidnapped there is much more involved. Yes granted the FBI and White House wanted to keep things from the press, but then you can devise enough ways to still get the thrill of the hunt. I do think that Ben Bova produced a nice medical thriller and I will be certainly checking out his next book.Transhuman is one of those book well-suited for a quick afternoon read. 

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