Tor, Jun 2001, 25.95, 413 pp.
In 2026, humanity faces a new crisis. There is a humongous biological growth in the Pacific that threatens to destroy the food chain. NASA believes that the Slick is a result of a find by the Chinese on the Martian polar cap. Microbiologist Mariella Anders joins a team of scientists investigating the Martian northern icecap to determine what the Chinese actually uncovered.
However, the idealistic Mariella must contend with bottom line scientist Penn Brown of Cytex, who wants to monopolize whatever is discovered, especially the means to eradicate Slick. On Mars, the Chinese team working at the site where the organism was originally found flees the area as they are now contaminated. The NASA team finds samples of the original organism and Mariella makes a desperate effort to return them to earth, alienating Cytex, the Chinese, and NASA.
THE SECRET OF LIFE is an engaging science fiction novel that once again shows how talented Paul McAuley is in getting his message across within an entertaining plot. Mr. McAuley rips extremists on either side of scientific discovery through his intrepid lead character. The greed and the ban without debate types are skewered and ridiculed for their intolerance towards the common good. However, the secret to what enables Mr. McAuley's books (see his Confluence stories) so good is he rips skin, but does so inside a believable, terse futuristic tale.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner