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Vitals Mass Market Paperback – April 1, 2003

2.5 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Reading Vitals, Greg Bear's dark, suspenseful, paranoid thriller of high-tech bioterrorism, would be terrifying even without real-world anthrax attacks. But the news stories of late 2001 add layers of resonance to the book.

You'd think the secret of eternal life would be an eagerly awaited boon to humanity. Yet when cutting-edge researcher Hal Cousins travels deep below the ocean's surface in a two-man submersible, seeking primitive lifeforms that may hold the key to immortality, his pilot attacks him. Barely surviving, Hal maneuvers the sub to the surface--and finds a fellow scientist has shot up his research ship. Then his lab is destroyed, his twin brother leaves a mysterious message saying they're both being pursued by an unknown force, and his sister-in-law calls to tell him his twin, who is also researching life extension, has been murdered. Someone or something has already discovered the secret of eternal life. It has immense power and influence, and it will stop at nothing to protect its secret. --Cynthia Ward --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bear's last novel, Darwin's Radio, won the 2000 Nebula for Best Novel. This inspired but disjointed SF thriller probably won't, though you wouldn't know that from rave blurbs by Tess Gerritsen, Stephen Baxter and David Brin. The book starts strong, with narrator Hal Cousins deep ocean diving in search of Vendobionts, primitive organisms harboring primitive bacteria that he hopes will catalyze his scientific quest for human immortality. Hal finds his Vendobionts, but as the sphere carrying him and his pilot ascends toward the surface, the pilot inexplicably attacks Hal, then the sphere. All survive, but soon after Hal learns that his twin brother, Rob, has been murdered. Both Hal and Rob had been pursuing similar paths to immortality, involving research into bacteria that colonize our bodies and that factor greatly in human life span; this research has brought them both into contact with a vast conspiracy called Silk, engineered by ex-Soviet scientists, that permits mind control through bacterial manipulation, with the trigger bacteria now infecting much of the world's population, including the U.S. president. If all this sounds far-fetched, it is, though the science is sound, and Bear doesn't make it more believable with flourishes such as a spooky Silk research facility in the middle of Manhattan hiding the immortal bodies of Russian elite including Stalin, and a book-ending assault on the seaborne headquarters of Silk; these and other narrative gambits smack of the Bond ethos at its hokiest. The novel is further undercut by Bear's confusing choice to alternate narrative duties between Hal and the former naval intelligence officer whom he turns to for help. Still, Bear creates strong characters and makes his pages fly, and his many fans will likely wallow happily in his paranoid vision. 8-city author tour; simultaneous BDD Audio.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345423348
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345423344
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,135,301 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Angie Boyter VINE VOICE on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How can such a good writer as Bear produce such a loser? I envision it happened like this. Bear had the germ of the idea for Vitals and had perhaps even begun writing it when his agent or editor said "Hey, Greg. Darwin's Radio has become a mainstream best seller! See if you can repeat with this one, and you can make the BIG breakthrough! Action is where it's at, baby. Conspiracy! Keep it moving. Be sure to include some gruesome violence or torture, the more perverted the better." Perhaps against his better judgment (at least, I hope his judgmentis better than that), Bear tried to comply, but he writes SF, not thrillers, and he is clearly out of his element. Instead of another Darwin's Radio we got Michael Crichton meets John LeCarre on a bad day. This scenario explains a lot. Like why the first part of the book was pretty good and engaged our interest quickly. And why the second part fell down so badly; the plot became increasingly gimmicky and farfetched, and even the writing deteriorated. And finally it explains why the plot became so convoluted that even the author didn't know how to explain the puzzle and simply failed to do so.
This book will certainly NOT be a bestseller, so Bear may be expected to return to writing the good SF that readers like me have enjoyed for many years. However, the next time I think I'll wait before I invest my money in the hardback!
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
**1/2 It beats being stuck on the beach with nothing to read.
I've enjoyed all of Greg Bear's books that I've read so far. This one just doesn't cut the mustard.
It starts out with all his cylinders clicking as usual. We get some convincing, heart-in-mouth deep sea exploration footage. We get a plausible and intriguing science fiction premise about how a bit of archaic bacteriology could turn us all into Lazarus Long, and it really makes sense that it leads to our hero poking around in the Juan De Fuca trench. We get a couple of neat scientists we'd like to see a bit more of, and we get an unsettling, mysterious series of phone calls from dead people.
Unfortunately, the phone calls remain mysterious - or at least only lamely explained. The well thought out longevity theme gets swallowed up in a slapped together bacterial mind control theme. Characters we cared about disappear, and characters we never get time to know wander on and off stage.
In short, it's a terrific first reel. But don't buy any popcorn, because you may find yourself ready to leave the theater before you get to the bottom of the bucket.
Bear can do, and always has done, better than this. And the first third shows he still has the stuff. I won't be dissuaded from trying out his next offering.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Normally, I would call myself a fan of Greg Bear; but this book is hard to recommend.
I picked up "Vitals" because I had just finished (the much better) "Darwin's Children" and thought another Bear book would be fun to read. For me, the book starts on a sour note in that it's set in the Juan de Fucha trench, and I recently read (and would highly recommend) Peter Watts' "Starfish" which is set there as well. Watts described it better, I believe.
The middle third of the book gets the technological explanations out of the way and devolves into typical thriller mode. That's where I began to worry. I wondered if Greg Bear is deliberately dumbing down his writing style in order to acquire more of the techno-thriller audience. (Apparently "Darwin's Radio" sold very well to the larger, non-SF audience, and "Vitals" is blatantly aimed at that same non-SF audience.)
But I stuck with the book, hoping that things would get wrapped up in the end. This was a mistake.
Simply put, the ending stinks. Instead of offering resolution to the reader, the protagonist actually revisits the festering plot holes to point them out and not explain them, making for one of the least satisfying book endings in recent memory.
If you're looking for a good Greg Bear book avoid this and instead read "Darwin's Radio", "Darwin's Children", or "Slant".
If you're looking for a good bio-catastrophe novel instead try "Starfish" by Peter Watts.
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Format: Hardcover
I have to say that I am a bit surprised about the level of negative reviews for this book. The future directions of bacteriology that went into the theory at the foundation of this novel were, in my opinion, an enjoyable, albeit far fetched, extension of current biological theory. I spend my days working in a related field known as biomaterials engineering and from this extensive knowledge base I can honestly say that the material covered in Vitals is as accurate, or at least follows in the realm of what is accurate, as any other so-called hard science sci-fi novel. Other novels that claim to be "hard science"-fiction novels, such as Cities in Flight (Blish) or Ringworld (Niven), throw science and engineering "facts" around as if they actually KNOW what they are talking about, which is FAR from the truth. In reality Blish and Niven (while fine authors!) are no closer to the cuting edge of science and engineering, than Bear is in Vitals. But they all make for a truly entertaining read. Vitals does, aggreably so, throw in an overabundance of cliches from past classic techno-suspense thrillers, but this allows the writing to move the reader along and keep him/her interested. It relies a bit too much on this though....but does not in the least mean it follows the same old mass-produced Crichton-style. Readers looking for a relaxed and enjoyable read, with a bit of science fact, coupled with a whole LOT of brainstorming and cliffhangers will love this one. I thoroughly got my money's worth!
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