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21st Century Flash Gordon
on February 10, 2013
I ordered this book because it had gotten so many outstanding reviews, and was a NY Times Best Seller, among others.
After the first few sentences, however, I wondered if I was reading the same book as those who wrote the glowing reviews. I persevered though to the end.
First, the writing got no better. In fact, it was consistently bad. Other negative reviewers have commented in detail about the poor writing style. Please see their comments. The best that I can say for it was that it reminded me of the pulp fiction writing of the 1930s and 1940s, a campy quality that wears very badly after several chapters.
Second, the characters are right out the Super Heroes and X-Men comic books and movies: super clever, super martial arts skills, super intelligence (even when not enhanced), and even cute (for the heroine) and muscular (for the hero). The heroes and heroine are 100% super good, and the villain is 100% super bad. Even when when they are not using the Magic Pill the heroine has invented, they are far above average in every respect.
Third, the Magic Pill. Newspapers and electronic media today are full of ads that claim the sellers have a wonder pill that will do miracles for your arthritic, poor memory, prostrate problems, erectile dysfunction, and (just fill in the blank for your favorite ailment). That's unfortunately the central thesis of this book. Medicine and neurology, however, are well past the polio vaccines and penicillin antibiotics that actually worked wonders. There are fewer and fewer miracle involving a Magic Pill, although its legend lives on in the popular mind. The coming wonders in neurology and psychology are going to be the product of the pooled efforts of many scientists over many years, not the product, as this books claims, of a lone "brilliant" scientist working in her spare time in her evenings for a few years. The Magic Pill featured here is no more cutting edge science than Flash Gordon was cutting edge physics. If the reader craves real cutting edge science, please read Michio Kaku's "Physics of the Future."
Fourth, The best feature of the book was its fast pace. It tends to hold your attention, if you minimize the bad writing by skipping a lot of words and paragraphs. The problem with the pace is that it strings terribly improbably events together like a long freight train. Quality science fiction often takes one or two improbably events (that maybe could happen) and weaves much more probable events around them to get an intriguing and thoughtful story. This book, however, takes a lot of improbable events and arranges them one after another. Please remember that the overall probability of a sequence of events is the multiple of each event's probability. Thus, the probability of the events at the conclusion of this book is zero.
If this book represents some of the best in today's science fiction, then the field desperately needs another Isaac Asimov or J. K. Rowling.