Posted by Paul Samael on Sunday, July 21, 2019 Under: Book reviews
Dreams from Before the Start of Time, Bad Blood, The Secret Barrister
Dreams from Before the Start of Time by Anne Charnock
This is a thoughtful, episodic novel following the lives of several generations from 2034 to 2120, focusing on potential advances in reproductive technology – and critically, how they lead to changes in the way that people feel about their lives. Although slow-paced, it drew me in sufficiently to keep me reading and I enjoyed it - but a little Googling around suggests that people seem to be quite split in their reactions. People who came to it knowing about the Arthur C Clarke Award that it won in 2018 often seemed to be expecting a spectacular sci-fi fireworks display –epic story, big new ideas, that sort of thing. Most of these people seem to have felt disappointed, but that doesn’t surprise me because it’s quite clearly not what this author set out to do. Stylistically, her approach is quite low key and has more in common with literary fiction; although the sci-fi elements are important, the world portrayed is a recognizable extrapolation of the one we currently inhabit. In that respect, it reminded me a little of an excellent self-published novel called Corpus Callosum by Erika D Price, which I reviewed here (and it’s worth mentioning that Anne Charnock self-published her first book, before being picked up by Amazon imprint 47North). People who just read it as a novel (rather than sci-fi), on the other hand, seem to have got more out of it – although some may find the episodic structure frustrating (I didn’t – but maybe that’s just me).
Bad Blood by John Carreyrou
An excellent expose of the Theranos scandal, which could equally well be entitled “How to Fool Lots of Rich and Powerful People.” Theranos was founded by Elisabeth Holmes, who claimed it would revolutionise blood testing by using finger prick testing on miniscule amounts of blood (as opposed to having to use needles to draw up a syringe-full of the stuff). The machines would be widely available and the tests automated, thus allowing lots more people to screened rapidly and often for damaging health conditions. Millions of lives would be saved! What’s not to like? Well, to cut a long story short, testing on very small amounts of blood is just really hard to do and the technology was nowhere near workable. Holmes, however, had convinced herself that the tech could be made to work eventually and that Theranos was going to be a kind of biotech version of Apple - so pesky whistleblowers should not be allowed to stand in her way (lawyers were duly unleashed to shut them up). Even more dubiously, she was happy for it to be used to test people even though it didn’t work – resulting in numerous patients getting false positives and having to incur significant medical expenses for investigations of serious conditions they didn’t actually have any signs of. By various tactics, including getting the likes of George Schultz and Henry Kissinger on her board, she was able to deflect criticism for much longer than should have been possible – so by the time it all collapsed like the house of cards it was, over a billion dollars had been flushed down the pan.
The Secret Barrister by Anonymous
OK, I’m on a bit of a non-fiction roll this month, but this is an excellent account of what is wrong with the criminal justice system in the UK (basically, not enough emphasis on getting the right answer – and too much focus on just processing cases as quickly and cheaply as possible). It was a very sobering read and contains some genuinely horrifying examples of how the system doesn’t work as it should.
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Tags: "dreams before the start of time" "anne charnock" "bad blood" "john carreyrou" "the secret barrister"
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