Phil D'Amato, a forensic scientist working for the NYPD, is visiting an old friend in rural Pennsylvania--home of the Amish. When the friend with no known allergies drops dead of a sudden allergic reaction, D'Amato decides to investigate. He finds himself at the center of a 30,000 year-old biowar being waged with genetically engineered weapons. As he probes deeper, it becomes apparent that the Amish are not the technophobes they appear to be.
In his first novel, Levinson was not afraid to tackle big concepts. His narrative spans 1,300 years and several continents, from the Tocharians, a tribe living in Xinjiang on the Silk Road route around 750 A.D., to a New York library janitor who may or may not be entirely human. When the bodies of what look like recently dead Neanderthals start turning up in Toronto and London, the book revs into high gear. We hurtle through a dozen murders, theories for the origins of Homo sapiens and the demise of the Neanderthals; touch on aspects of the philosophy of science and the possibility that cave paintings are really prehistoric movies; and wrap up with an interesting vision of what humanity might have been--if only things had turned out differently.
Phil D'Amato made his first appearance in Analog, and fans of his forensic sleuthing will love this full-length treatment. It is biological SF of the Old School--plenty of adventure with no fancy writing and very little character development to get in the way of the plot. --Luc Duplessis
From Publishers Weekly
Combining Neanderthals and mechanical looms, cantaloupes and coded butterflies, Levinson's debut novel (he's also the current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America) offers a flurry of amazing prehistoric technologies, demonstrating that the mysteries of our past can be just as fruitful as those of our future. A series of strange deaths draws forensic detective Phil D'Amato (returning from Levinson's shorter fiction) ever deeper into an ancient and ongoing biological war. D'Amato's vacation in Lancaster, Pa., quickly gets serious when an Amish man is murdered, then D'Amato's good friend Mo turns up dead. Before he dies, Mo tells of his investigation into the local Amish, of their homes lit by specially bred fireflies and their possible control of deadly allergic reactions. The rest of the novel's first part works like an expanded short story as D'Amato gradually learns to take the Amish biotechnology seriously. But after a harrowing rescue from incendiary fireflies, the main plot pauses, and its second part jumps back to eighth-century central Asia. This self-contained story follows young Gwellyn on his search to discover the secret of the Neanderthals, who may yet be alive. Blending exotic travel through the Byzantine and Islamic empires with Gwellyn's growing realization that the Neanderthals are far stranger than humanity ever imagined, this is the novel's standout section. The book returns to the likable D'Amato for its remainder, as he pursues a bewildering array of murders, deceptions and ancient bioweaponsAall connected, somehow, in the recurrence of silk. Before its dramatic conclusion, Levinson's ambitious plot occasionally leaves his narratorAand his readerAat sea in loose ends and expository dialogue, but abundant, clever speculations, which creatively explain gaps in both ancient history and biology, compensate handsomely, providing more wonders than many a futuristic epic. (Oct.)
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