I chose this book in a hurry
from the library. It was tagged as SF. While there are SF elements,
it's more in the neighborhood of espionage / conspiracy fiction.
The prologue tells of Germans
sneaking some stuff out of a secret laboratory at the end of WWII.
There's also something about an infant that has some unspecified connection to
the lab. The book then jumps to the present day. Some plague or
something has struck a Buddhist monastery high up in the Himalayas - and for
some reason someone is trying to destroy the place to hide something.
Meanwhile, in Europe some secretive buyers are purchasing a variety of 19th
century science books that had once been part of a library sold off in the 1940's.
What follows is the story of
some spies from a scientific branch of the Pentagon looking into these
matters. Along the way, the spies pick up a couple of civilians who help
in the process. There's a secret installation in the barren Himalayan lands
near the Chinese border. There are odd events in South Africa, a visit to
the SS's castle in Germany, etc. The "travelogue" and
"spies vs. super crooks" aspects that reminded me of classic James
Bond. However, we're not talking about a single suave spy in this case.
The book is written in what I
tend to think of as "bestseller style". That is, there's a lot
of description of people, places and things providing the book with more bulk
or more detail depending on your preferences in general or take on a particular
book. There's also a certain amount of sex towards the beginning to
improve its chances of making the bestseller list. (I don't find the
content objectionable, I just don't like writing according to a recipe that
calls for 2 sex scenes of type 1 and one sex scene of type 2.) It does
move at a good pace.
This is a
mainstream fiction book with some aspects that would usually be found in
"speculative fiction" or "science fiction". So
perhaps it would be unfair to judge it too much on its science content.
And perhaps its science content isn't more questionable than a lot of SF.
Nevertheless, I'll make a few comments.
1) In this book, there's a
device that uses a very strong electromagnetic field to influence some obscure
compound material (a mix of substances made from normal atoms).
Supposedly, there is something about this specific compound that responds to
this electromagnetic field by producing some otherwise unknown "quantum
energy". This mysterious "quantum energy" interacts with
things within a certain distance from it. Supposedly, this damages living
things "at a quantum level" without causing sunburn or such on a
visible level. It's never possible to be 100% certain an unexpected future
discovery will occur, but this highly doubtful.
2) There's also much talk of
a narrow version of Intelligent Design. It's argued that the Uncertainty
Principle means quanta making up DNA molecules are not in a single state, but
are simultaneously in states corresponding to a non-mutated gene and a mutated
gene. The quantum interactions in the DNA lead to the quanta's wave
function to collapse (so it's only in one of the states) causes life to evolve.
To the extent that the
argument merely says that DNA is composed of material that doesn't always make
an exact duplicate of itself, leading to change occurring, and that some
changes lead to more copies being made, other changes lead to fewer copies
being made - then the argument is sound. But to the extent it tries to
suggest any sort of "design" in which changes are made, the argument
seems wrong. The Uncertainty Principle does not give a preference to one
result or another. Whether or not a quantum event is "observed"
seems to determine whether a quanta remains "in both states" or
"collapses into one state" - but the observer does not determine
which of the possible states it collapses into. The history of life on
Earth shows us evolution has taken billions of years. Clearly, quantum
uncertainty hasn't sped up evolution to a pace faster than that.