The Furies, by Mark Alpert
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
320 pages, Kindle Edition
Published April 2014
Another novel that I expected to primarily be a fantasy with some science fiction aspects, it instead is a straight up thriller adventure, a spy story built around a unique premise. The premise of “The Furies” is clever and interesting. The title does not refer to figures of Greek myth, but rather to a family. The idea is that in the distant human past, a group of individuals evolved incredible abilities that augmented intelligence and lifespan. These newly evolved humans used their abilities to try to better the species. But throughout history they were treated as suspect and dangerous – the tales of witches – and were subjected to persecution, leading them to seclude themselves as a secretive society in the wilderness of the New World. Intelligence and longevity bring great strengths to their community. There is just one problem: the evolved abilities are sex-linked. With two X chromosomes, only females benefit. The Y chromosome of males robs the men of the community from the same traits the women enjoy.
While I really enjoyed the premise behind this story, the execution beyond that premise was not stellar. As a simple action story the novel remains entertaining, but also fairly predictable once the facts behind the community begin to be revealed to the reader and protagonist. The most frustrating part of the novel, however, is the science. The science behind the premise is technically correct as explained. As the author is a writer for Scientific American, this isn’t surprising. The problem is that the science is used to advance parts of the plot that stretch disbelief far beyond the points of reasonable suspension. Science fiction works when the explanation behind some fictional phenomena is both accurate and reasonably believable, even if stretched beyond or current understandings of the universe a bit (like interstellar travel for instance).
A lot of the biology and biochemistry of this novel seemed absurd, from the damage that could occur due to female’s cells having two fully expressed X chromosomes, to the ‘catalyst’ that is used to activate abilities in men. Somehow it also works on other species quite easily (and rapidly!). Also, an injection into a human, or in an entire river will affect organisms the same way. Dilution? That is some potent stuff.
If you don’t really know much about biochemistry and biology and want an interesting action novel that puts a unique explanatory spin on witch persecutions in history then this would be a perfectly entertaining light read.