Tag Archives: Pandemic

THE MOTHER CODE: a sci-fi novel

 

 

Carole Stivers
Berkley Press
2020
Science Fiction
ARC from Netgalley

★★★★☆

Excerpt from Amazon Book Synopsis 

What it means to be human –and a mother– is put to the test in Carole Stivers’ debut novel set in a world that is more chilling and precarious than ever.

It’s 2049, and the survival of the human race is at risk. Earth’s inhabitants must turn to their last resort: a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots—to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order—an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right—the Mother Code.

The Apocalypse Begins

December 20, 2049.
The US military, beleaguered in the long war against terrorism and following secret orders, deployed an air drop of deadly nano bots, NANS, in a remote area of Afghanistan. The intended target – the lungs of Afghan terrorists residing in a desolate area. Due to the remote location, the deployment was deemed a low risk for inhalation by persons outside the kill zone. The NANs that were not inhaled were programmed to fall to the ground and become inert.  U.S. military scouts found the bodies; the mission deemed a success.

The high fives were short lived as a rapid-onset virus began spreading through the country. The U.S. powers-that-be turned to the scientists that created the NANs for help. Their nano-tech scientists, having reported that the NANs had not been fully vetted for use, had been kept in the dark about the deployment. Suddenly it was a deadly race to determine if the NANs could be stopped before it turned into a pandemic. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

In their search for answers, the scientists found the only way to survive the NANs would be to alter the human genetic code. It was possible to create embryos with altered DNA but it was impossible to use human surrogate mothers to birth and raise the children. There wasn’t time.

A small doomsday project set aside long ago was dusted off and put into production. “Mother” robots would be used to perform all the functions of a human mother from carrying the embryo through fetal stages to birth. Socializing, educating, and protecting the children would continue until they had reached self-sufficiency. Reminded me of that early Superman movie where the baby Kal-El is given all the knowledge of his ancestors and information about his new home -Earth.

The story is well told traveling back and forth in time until reaching an equilibrium – the vestiges of mankind receding but the memories and knowledge of the past alive in the Mother Code and her human offspring. The characters are interesting and believable. It was simply told in a manner that seemed more like a Young Adult book but nonetheless engaging.  Inherent in the story are questions of morality and spirituality that challenge the reader to question things.

Reviewer’s Thoughts

As I neared the end of the book, the news of the corona virus broke out in the real world. It knocked me back on my heels. Are there plans in the works now that we don’t know about to sustain human life beyond a pandemic?

Consider the scenario where we would relinquish care and raising of children to robots. I realized it was very possible. Think about it. We don’t even have to parallel park our cars any more. SIRI provides answers to questions that used to require humans to think for themselves. How many people do you know that rely solely on their phones for everything.

Finally, it wasn’t scary but maintained a positive and uplifting message. Those characters facing their own mortal end find the strength to put the future ahead of their own demise. Hurrah! And there’s a secret in the story that I won’t reveal. Find it for yourself!

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STATION ELEVEN: a novel

 

The bitter tragedy
of human life
is that it is all too fragile,
our lives are written
not in the rock forever,
but upon the all too fragile
and transitory parchment
and of human flesh.

[Sermon after World Trade Center attack]

Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic world that follows a pandemic of the Georgian Flu. Georgia, the Eurasian country, not the state. This latest assault on humanity arrived in North America on a plane from Russia.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, set in a burned-out shell of the United States, is a physically altered natural world, where the sun never shines and survival is cruel and heartless. This is the usual standard of dystopian fiction. A haunting story of a father desperate to retain his humanity and save his son.

Station Eleven, however, is a more sanitized apocalyptic story, picking up twenty years after the pandemic, and is set along what had been the Canadian and American borders. It is more a mystery than a descriptive survival story with cannibalistic humans and parched earth; it lightly touches on how they stay alive physically but concentrates more on the mental aspects of their new lives.

This now sparsely populated and undefined land, freed of political boundaries, is an unfettered world where nature reclaims everything man has tamed. The survivors of the nearly extinct human race, in a blink of an eye, must face the total loss of everyone and everything. The question becomes – now what?

“The beauty of this world where almost everyone was gone. If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it?” 

This multifaceted and multi-voiced story takes highly evolved mankind with its technology and global reach and reduces him to nomadic life. Unlike our early ancestors, these newest nomads have evidence of a past history: rusted cars strung like beads on a broken necklace, crestfallen houses and darken light poles. The further the world travels into the future, the fewer people understand the old world and the old ways.

SYNOPSIS

In the last days of the old world, in a Toronto theater, a Shakespearean play is ongoing featuring the world famous actor, Arthur Leander, playing King Lear. Arthur, in what appears to the audience as a highly dramatic moment, collapses and dies of a heart attack on stage. Unknown to the theater crowd, death has been twining among their seats and in a matter of three weeks, most of them, as well as most of the world, will be dead.

Arthur had just received two copies of a comic book series, entitled “Station Eleven”, designed by his ex-wife, Miranda. Before stepping on stage, he gifted one set to a charming eight-year-old actress, Kirsten Raymonde.

Kirsten and her brother survive and join the millions of people on the run. She carries with her a few comfort items that include these comics. The struggles of the first year on their own mutes her past; the last thing she remembers clearly is the play, the comics, and Arthur.

Twenty years after the pandemic, most survivors have settled into small communities. Outliers remain nomads caravanning along crumbly roads, as predators, traders and in Kirsten’s case, a caravan of musicians and actors calling known as The Traveling Symphony.

Sometimes the Traveling Symphony thought that what they were doing was noble. There were moments around campfires when someone would say something invigorating about the importance of art, and everyone would find it easier to sleep that night.

Kirsten, now 28, while scrounging for supplies and food in abandoned houses, obsessively searches for Arthur in old newspapers and magazines. When she finds a picture or a story, we are transported backward into his life. Arthur’s parallel story line merges seamlessly and is not a distraction. Other survivors who knew Arthur including his best friend, Clark and one of his three ex-wives, Elizabeth tie the two stories together. The stories come closer and closer together finally merging at the end of the book.

Where’s the mystery you might ask? It begins with The Traveling Symphony’s stop in the community of St. Deborah By The Water; a community much like Jonestown with a similar cult prophet. The Symphony had stopped there a couple of years earlier, prior to the prophet’s arrival, and a pregnant Symphony member and her husband stayed there to have the child. This newest Symphony stop was to retrieve them and to entertain the community with a Shakespearean play.

Things seemed a little off; their friends were not there. When they found three grave markers with their friend’s names on them, they bolted town, only to discover a teenage girl hiding in one of the caravan wagons. A teenage girl expected to be the prophet’s next wife.

How far will the prophet go to recover his “bride”? Rumor had it that their friends were still alive and heading for another community known as Museum of Civilization. What really happened to their friends? What is the fate of the cast members that disappear on the way to the new community? How does Arthur’s story fit into the picture?

This isn’t a book that will make your hair stand on end like a Stephen King novel. Nonetheless I found myself curious and entertained throughout. Somehow, despite the tragedy of the pandemic, the survivors have a beautiful world in which to begin again. The sun rises and falls. The earth stands ready to help man get back up on his feet.

Recommended reading. A nice read on a long road-trip.

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