Green Eyes in the Amazon is a very timely book — almost too timely. Fundamentalist religious groups are conspiring to control society and stifle scientific advances by any means necessary, including violence. It is set in a hazy but not-too-distant future. No more cellphones and SUVs, now we all have vidcoms and autopiloted cars. Central America is a Dead Zone, university professors and students have to swear loyalty oaths and religion is on the rise. In this contentious climate, a brilliant young biologist may have ushered in the next step in human evolution — but what will the religious zealots do to stop him?
There are a lot of interesting topics in Green Eyes – human evolution, the expansion of science, the influence of religion, medical and scientific ethics. It promises so much, but really doesn’t deliver. This may be a case of a book biting off more than it can chew.
The story is an interesting one: brilliant young biologist Steven Sumpter has distilled all the “mysterious, complex processes of life” into a series of algorithms. (Exactly what religious conservatives have always been afraid science would do.) He has used these algorithms in conjunction with some amazing quantum computer programming, to create a child, a whole new species of human. Steven is on the run from the authorities who accuse him of violating the Mutant Laws and hiding from religious extremists who want to be sure this child is never born. As the world lurches towards an all-out war between religion and science, Steven’s creation may represent reason’s only chance.
Steven receives some help from the military and spends most of the book hiding out in the Dead Zone. He is accompanied by his father, Dennis; former colleague, Benny; and Eli, his lover, his colleague, and the woman about to give birth to his greatest creation. They have to deal with the difficulties of surviving in the wilderness, avoiding the sort of thugs and villians that would make their home in the Dead Zone, while caring for a pregnant woman. Eventually, Steven and Julia will be called upon to try and prevent the end of the Enlightenment, as religious forces gain strength and show a frightening willingness to use mayhem and violence to increase their authority.
Unfortunately, I found the book rather shallow. There is a lot of discussion about what to do with this child, Julia, what she really is, but the discussion can be summed up as “she’s a new species and we must treat her with respect.” The question, at least for me, isn’t always can we do something, but should we do it. The shoulds are never addressed here. Julia is useful, she may save our world from a new Dark Age, and that’s all that’s important. Eli was also a biologist, but she doesn’t seem to think or speak like a scientist. She is completely taken over by her maternal instincts. I would have been more interested in her if she had more than just this dimension.
There is a lot going on in the story that is not fleshed out. For example, I am not sure how far in the future we are really talking. Steven’s father, Dennis, has a very cool car that will do 100+ miles an hour on autopilot, complete with evasion mode. Steven is able to synthesize a variety of human growth hormones from a small computer set-up he hauled into the Amazon with them. But the university Steven attends seems no different from any college today. I can’t tell if the story is set 20 years or 50 years or 150 years in the future. Steven is tried and convicted of violating the Mutant Laws, but I never knew for sure just what that entailed. There is a great deal of talk about war involving the military, the scientists and the religious extremists, but no real detail on what this war will entail. The description involves a lot of casualties, but what caused them? Did we bomb the churches? Did the extremists start burning libraries and librarians? If the government is getting more religious and more conservative, why does the military seem to be on the side of the scientists?
All in all, the story left me wanting. I wanted to know more about Steven’s world, more about the world of Helen and Alphonse, our window into the religious forces at work, I wanted to know more about Steven’s singing rabbits, about Toid — the virtual world he used for developing his theories — and the original Julia, a computer program that gained sentience and had to be destroyed. I wanted to know what the government and the military were up to while Steven and Eli were hiding out in the Dead Zone. It felt incomplete and unfinished. I think it’s good when an author leaves you wanting more, but this wasn’t the way to go about it.
My copy of Green Eyes in the Amazon was provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.