Once I started reading this book I couldn't put it down. The story takes place in 2027 and it centers around a young doctor, Adriana Drake, who along with a small group of partners, owns a fertility clinic in midtown Manhattan, and a young man, Trent Rowe, an agent with the DEP (Department of Embryo Preservation). Other main characters are Sam Lisio, an embryonic stem cell researcher who works with Adrianna and her partners and Gideon Dopp, Trent's boss. In this future time it has become illegal to do stem cell research using embryonic stem cells and the DEP is a government agency entrusted with the task of policing fertility clinics to make sure that all embryonic stem cells which have been harvested from women wishing to have children are accounted for and that none of them are destroyed. Clinics are required to submit monthly reports to the agency, showing the number of stem cells they obtain and they have monthly unannounced inspections where an inspector counts the vials of stem cells and goes so far as to check each under a microscope to verify that is actually what the test tube contains.
Gideon Dopp, head of the NY division, suspects that something may be amiss in Adrianna's clinic because of the large number of embryonic stem cells they deal with and the popularity of the small clinic. The story unfolds from this point. This is one of those books where you really don't want to read any more spoilers before sitting down with the book on your own. I was so wrapped up in the story after the first few chapters that I would go to bed and then have to get up to read more. I became downright antisocial when family members tried to interrupt my reading. It was that engrossing. It's a story that, while definitely slanted in one direction, would make anyone do a lot of thinking regardless of where they stand politically on the subject. It also made me think about government agencies and overreaching by some of the people within. It makes a political statement, but goes far beyond that. The characters were well developed and I couldn't help feeling empathy for even the ones that I didn't agree with.
If there was any one thing that I thought was odd about the book, it was that things had changed socially and politically 16 years into the future, but technology, at least what was discussed in the book, didn't seem to have advanced much. Given the changes we've seen in the last 10 years, I would have thought they would have more fancy gadgets and capabilities. But I suppose that might have detracted from the story.
I completely enjoyed the book and I understand from the back cover that Kira Peikoff is working on a second novel. I'll be the first in line to purchase it.
In "Living Proof," author Kira Peikoff turns to the world of the near future. The year is 2027 and medical research has become much more conservative. Stem cell research is illegal, IVF clinics are regulated and monitored with severe penalties visited upon those who do not take the appropriate precautions.
Enter our hero, disaffected, jaded DEP (Department of Embryo Protection) agent Trent Rowe. Trent is sent undercover to glean information about a young, successful fertility doctor, Arianna Drake, daughter of a renegade scientist. Although her clinic is above reproach and she passes every inspection without a hitch, Trent's zealot boss, ex-priest Gideon Dopp, believes she is hiding something, and might even lead to a shutdown, which would mean more money, fame and attention for his department. Trent just hopes that doing a good job for the department will add meaning and purpose to his life, which is growing increasingly hollow. For her part, Arianna is coping with a serious illness, and, although drawn to Trent, is unsure whether to trust him.
It's a good solid idea for a novel and an important issue for people to consider. I did, however, find the main characters to be a bit cliche-driven. Also, the story would have benefited from some tighter editing. We hear interior monologues from most of the major characters, as well as being told of their motivations in exacting detail. If the story moved along at a tighter, more purposeful clip, I would have enjoyed it more.
Also, the ending was enigmatic, to put it mildly. While our hero and heroine may do okay, it's hard to imagine what their next steps would be or how they will live into their future lives or effect the kind of change they would like to. It's a decent first novel about an important issue - it will be interesting to see what Ms. Peikoff does next.
on April 7, 2012
"What man worships...is indicative of his very essence, for reverence is man's deepest form of love, one which holds the key to his soul."
This passage holds the key to the entire novel, and how to understand the characters. The first half of the novel mainly focuses on the one character who changes fundamentally in this respect, as he tries to solve the mystery of what the other main character worships and simultaneously begins to undergo a profound change in his own deepest values. At first, I wanted the book to focus more on the other character earlier on, but came to appreciate what the author was doing.
Unfortunately, when the crucial moment comes it is not entirely convincing. She just talks rather abstractly about life and faith for a couple of paragraphs, and he says, "Everything you say makes perfect sense," and he's completely convinced and that's that. It's all too obvious that the author was not raised to be and has never been religious and has no idea what that's like. Not that this kind of fiction should be naturalistic, but for such a critical plot point to be convincing it at least needs to be somewhat realistic.
But after that the book gets back on track and picks up more and more until it reaches its excellent climax and conclusion. On the whole, a very good first novel. I'll be looking forward to her next.
on June 17, 2013
The theme seems to be the superiority of reason over faith, but the characters representing religion are caricatures. At one point, a priest tells the main character, "Remember the whole idea of faith, Trent: Let go of reason and give in to God's higher plan." And then, "Think of Jesus. You need to learn how to sacrifice your own desires in order to do something that will help others." As I grew up in a Catholic family and went to Catholic schools for twelve years, I know that the church is not this crude or transparent. They are much more subtle and vague, and actually pretend that faith and reason can co-exist. Perhaps by growing up in a staunchly atheist home (her father is Objectivist Leonard Piekoff), Ms. Piekoff doesn't realize that all of her religious characters don't ring true. The caricatures of religious people was a big stumbling block for me as a reader.
Living Proof borrows quite a bit from Atlas Shrugged. Since Atlas Shrugged is one of my favorite books, this might seem a good thing. However, Living Proof doesn't have characters or a plot to match Ayn Rand's classic, so when scenes are borrowed, it detracts from the book. One example is when Arianna and Sam overcome a major obstacle before government forces can stop them. Arianna expresses that it seems silly that they feared the government forces and that they never really had to worry about them, which is how Atlas Shrugged ended with Dagney saying the same thing to John Galt. I still experience a sense of awe in remembering that scene from Atlas Shrugged, while I don't feel anything when Arianna says the same sentiment in Living Proof.
Another problem I've noticed in Living Proof is that Ms. Piekoff breaks Ayn Rand's first rule of plot: make things as difficult as possible for the characters. This was certainly true in Atlas Shrugged, when my heart ached for the characters at times. In Living Proof, the bad guys could have been more effective adversaries. Instead Ms. Piekoff uses Arianna's progressing multiple sclerosis as a plot devise, which is not as effective as other characters acting against her.
The ending was somewhat melodramatic in my view, but the problem could be that I never grew to like the protagonist much. And the unrequited love angle between two people with a father-daughter relationship came out of nowhere and was somewhat weird.
Overall, Living Proof is a good first effort, but I'm surprised it was published. I feel kind of bad giving this book a poor review because any book by an Objectivist has to live up to the incredibly high standard set by Ayn Rand. On the other hand, any fan of Ayn Rand should hold themselves to a high standard and keep working hard to attain it.
on January 31, 2012
The blurb above summarizes the plot nicely, but the book is more than a story--it's a philosophical narrative that presents a strong point of view about where our society might be going. The author's dystopia will join 1984 and Animal Farm as conceivable (but fortunately unlikely) extensions of our world today. In this case, it's the "right to life" that gets expanded and perverted by certain elements of society, to the point where the continued existence (with funding) of several large government agencies depends on their ability to find violators of the new laws that protect embryos and fetuses, as well as prohibit broad areas of scientific research. The author works through a number of possible philosophical positions via her narrative, with a suitably ambiguous conclusion. There are hard scientists that care only about their research, practitioners trying to save adult lives with new (and banned) research, fanatical government bureaucrats whose religious fervor is exceeded only by their need for continued government funding, and of course, Trent, the man in the middle. The book is very thought-provoking. The only difficulty I had with the book is that the author attempts to reproduce the complete unabridged stream of consciousness of every major character, and she also attempts to explain all the science and all the religion and all the politics involved throughout the book. Sometimes the plot is put aside for quite a while as one or another character reflects at great length about his or her upbringing, belief system, and actions. Virtually no thought or doctrine is left to the imagination, and I found the resulting over-written prose somewhat tedious after a while. Orwell and Huxley were both a little more subtle. Still, highly recommended as a cautionary tale about where some present political/religious views might lead us. The author, by the way, really takes no strong position on the underlying issues--she never tells us directly if she is for or against any of the different trains of thought (except I'm pretty sure she dislikes the corrupt politician immensely!).
on March 18, 2012
This is an outstanding book--an exciting and original plot and interesting conflicts tied to current societal issues. But the book is great in a deeper sense. Most Amazon reviewes see the novel as a conflict between science and religion but it is deeper than that if you read closely.It is an attack on religion itself--for it's assault on man's ego and on the rational mind. The real theme is the evil of religion because it is in the deepest sense anti-life as the novel shows.
on March 16, 2012
I'm always impressed by the achievement of getting a first novel into print, especially when it is accomplished with such amazing effectiveness. Ms. Peikoff has not only managed to master plot development, but theme, characterization, pace and drama as well. The conflict set up between the characters of Trent and Ariana is classic, representing moral, professional and romantic issues that one rarely witnesses in fiction. The reader is kept wondering til the end how on earth this is going to be resolved. It seems to be an impossible dilemma, yet one is not left unsatisfied in the end.
I have long been a fan of Michael Crichton and was reminded often while reading Ms. Peikoff of his STATE OF FEAR. What he did there to destroy the myth of global warming, she has done to demolish the arguments of the "right to lifers." This may not have been her prime objective, but that is what she achieved and did so without devolving into a political rant. There is a very fine line drawn there yet she managed to walk it with great balance and tact. And, she did so without an appendix or scientific bibliography! Mr. Crichton knew the evils of mixing science with politics in STATE and offered many sources for his fictional account, including the following quote from Alston Chase. . ."When the search for truth is confused with political advocacy, the pursuit of knowledge is reduced to the quest for power." The same applies when an attempt is made to mix church and state.
on February 28, 2012
"Living Proof" presents a not-to-distant, and believable, world in which Christian fundamentalists have influenced government policy and created a new dark ages in science--specifically with respect to pregnancy and embryonic stem cell research. There are government agencies that subject each pregnant woman to rights-violating control in order to dictate what she does to her body, treating her like a slave because she is carrying a fetus that has more rights than she.
Fertility clinics are subjected to searches without warrant, and doctors face first degree murder charges if they fail to preserve embryos properly. There is a total ban on embryonic stem cell research, preventing the discovery of life saving procedures. The Christian notion of cell masses having a soul--the premise of the "right to life" movement--has created a terrifying police state.
The story creates a stark reality: this supposedly love-driven desire to be "pro-life" is actually a freedom and life-destroying movement, a modern day Inquisition, and the enforcers are just as evil. If you are sympathetic to this view, you'll really enjoy how this story concretizes what such a world would be like. If you are "pro-life" or sympathetic to that position, hopefully you'll have enough honesty to contemplate the logical implications presented in this story.
The novel has a tight plot: a life-and-death race against time, both as character Dr. Arianna Drake and colleagues try to save her from a terminal disease, and the police state hell-bent on imprisoning them. The conflict is with a man torn between his religious precepts and commitment to the law, versus his love and desire to help save the doctor's life.
Despite its serious subject matter and ideological ramifications, and it being steeped in reproductive and stem cell science, it's fast-paced and easy reading: it can definitely be enjoyed on the beach, as I did. It takes skill to pull off a balance between thought-provoking ideas and pleasure reading, and I think it's very impressive, especially considering this is Kira Peikoff's first novel. I look forward to her future works. -- Chip Joyce
on February 12, 2013
I came to Kira Peifoff's Living Proof, from a background of having read all of Ayn Rand, knowing about the rift among her followers, knowing that Leonard Peikoff was named her "intellectual" as well as legal heir, and hearing that Kira was his daughter and an Objectivisit. So this review of Living Proof is going to be primarily with that background in mind.
Kira is a writer of the old school whose plot is well-constructed, and who deals with both action and ideas. As an editor with Inverted-A Press, I cannot tell you how much I value reading a book that actually has a plot where each event feeds into the main conflict and that proceeds with the suspense building to a climax and then a denouement. In a way, that's the least you could expect from a novel, but so many writers do not deliver on this implied promise. Kira Peikoff does.
Beyond that, though, she is not Ayn Rand in a number of different ways. I would say that her sense of life is less heroic and romantic and that her values are more mainstream and "normal." For instance, a friend, hearing that I was reading a novel by the daughter of Rand's intellectual heir, asked jokingly whether there was a rape scene comparable to that in "The Fountainhead". I laughed and had to admit there was no rape scene. In fact, what sex there is is very politically correct: it's all caring and gentle, and the characters seem motivated more by a desire to please their partner than by a compulsion to take pleasure for themselves. I mean, she gives lip service to Ayn Rand's doctrine of enlightened selfishness, but her characters don't seem selfish at all. They are so neurotypical and non-autistic that their concern for the other person's feelings and well-being is built into every scene. Beyond the sex, and getting into the vision of love that is portrayed in this book: it is non-limerent, non-obsessive and very focused on attachment and bonding, rather than either lust or veneration. It is the kind of view of love that puts the relationship first and the individuals second.
The heroism, --and yes-- there is some heroism involved, is also kind of muted, and the characters come off as ordinary people who are forced by extreme circumstances to do heroic things, when ordinarily they would have had regular lives with work as a way to earn a living and vacations of snowboarding and other physically challenging, but lighthearted pursuits.
Intellectually, the book is not particularly stimulating, as it frames the conflict between religion and science in very simplistic terms that would appeal to small children, but do not really reflect what people on both sides of the argument are grappling with.
The idea that the religious issue really is about whether or not God exists is entirely too literal minded. That religion might comfort people in times of trouble, help them cope with their own fallibility and provide them with a framework to join with others in their community to celebrate family events is not really conveyed. The psychology of those who pray to a being who may or may not exist in order to find relief from suffering is entirely unexplored. And I don't think that Kira understands the abstract concept of veneration. This comes out in her treatment of both love and religion. Reciprocity is too ingrained in her to imagine how veneration really works. In the same way that the heroine, Arianna, does not venerate her boyfriend Trent, but does love him casually because he is supportive and kind, Kira cannot seem to imagine how worshipers may venerate the mere _idea_ of a god who need not necessarily exist or reciprocate in order to make them feel elation.
By the same token, framing the stem cell research/abortion debate in terms of whether life begins at conception or not is going to leave most readers out in the cold. Save for a few fanatics on either side of the argument, most people understand that it's not when life begins that is in question: it is about our own priorities about what life we value most.
Kira likens the issue to the difference between a "potential" for life and life itself: the acorn versus the oak. But many leaders on the right are also worried about lost potential, sometimes speaking of it openly, in economic terms. They are dependent on an economic system that is fueled by constant growth, and they talk about the potential that is lost when all those would-be consumers and producers are not born because aborted, their potential contributions snuffed out.
By the same token, while many people support stem cell research, they do not want to fund it at the public expense. The Bush "ban" on stem cell research -- mentioned in passing in the book -- was not actually a ban on research. It was a ban on Federal funding of this research. Yet how many people at this point are not even aware of the difference?
In Living Proof, the protagonists engage in private research at their own expense, which is good and admirable. And yet it seems as if they were driven to this expedient by the tyranny of prohibition -- and might otherwise gladly have availed themselves of Federal funding. By setting the conflict up as a prohibition from the right due to religious coercion, Kira Peikoff ignores the real danger that many are concerned about: that their tax dollars will be used to fund research for medical procedures that will be used to prolong the life of the sick and aging indefinitely -- at the public expense under a system of public healthcare. In this scenario, the researchers and the sick being helped will be "moochers" -- and those who rightly oppose them will be the Atlases shrugging.
Is it possible to be a left-wing Objectivist? I have no idea. But with all the arguments being so decidedly "pro-life" -- in the sense of keeping people who have already been born from dying at any cost -- one gets the sense that Kira Peikoff is very close to that position. In her book, all the Republicans are bad, and a Democrat win in the state legislature is a blow for freedom.
Kira didn't come right out and say that she favors Federally funding stem cell research in this book. But her sense of life seems to imply it. I hope very much, though, that I am wrong. Perhaps the sequel to this book, in which the protagonists flee to Canada, will be about the evils of government-run health care systems.
on April 1, 2012
This is a murder mystery with a fascinating twist. The question is not only who the murderer is, but who is being murdered. The answer lies in who's philosophic premises you agree with. The book brilliantly explores the psychology of the murderer and the murderer's motivation. The author provides ample clues and psychological insights, and as it builds to a climax, interruptions to reading cannot be permitted. I think the book would make a riveting movie. I look forward to Ms Peikoff's next novel.