‘Oaths And Miracles’ by Nancy Kress

I’ve been reading Nancy Kress since her 1991 novella ‘Beggars In Spain’ won the Nebula. Her Science Fiction has always been leading edge in terms of her ideas and human in terms of its scale. Recently, I’ve become interested in her Climate Fiction, starting with her short story “A Hundred Hundred Daisies” John Joseph Adams’ powerful anthology, ‘Loosed Upon The World’ and then her innovative novella ‘After The Fall Before The Fall During The Fall’

‘Oaths and Miracles’ was a re-read for me, although the last time I read it was 1998 and in the following twenty-two years, most of the details, including the reveal of what the bad guys were up to, faded from my memory. I recently released my physical copy of the book into the wild but I wasn’t quite ready to let it go, so I picked up an ebook copy and did a re-read.

‘Oaths and Miracles’ is a Techno-Thriller, of the kind that Michael Crichton popularised. In 1991 that was still a young genre and this book stood out because it focused on possible threats coming from the rapid development of the science of human genetics on the back of the Human Genome Project.

Reading it today, much of the science sounds familiar. Oddly, this increased the sense of threat in the book as it made what the bad guys were trying to do seem quite plausible.

It’s not my favourite Nancy Kress novel but it is still an entertaining thriller with a strong idea at its centre and a series of people in peril. It’s a strange mix as it’s about the Mafia involving themselves in genetic engineering research and being willing to kill large numbers of people to achieve their goal and protect their secret.

The plot follows separate storylines that are initially hard to see the links between but which eventually twist around one another into a knot. We had the Las Vegas showgirl who knows something she shouldn’t, the ex-cult member trying to get access to his wife and kids, a science journalist married to a leading scientist researching the mechanics of gene therapy and an FBI agent trying to build his first RICO case.

I enjoyed the puzzle the book pivoted around and the way the plot sustained tension and a sense of urgency. I thought the ex-cult member was well-drawn. I particularly liked the scenes where he’s dealing with the radio and TV show hosts who are trying to turn his frustration and fear into viewing figures. The two main characters, the journalist and the FBI man didn’t quite work for me. The journalist was essential to the plot to explain the science, make the links to religion and to put a human face on the story. All of that worked but I thought her interior monologues were a little flat. The FBI man was an interesting invention, with his compulsion to think by drawing cartoons and writing poetry mashups (although that phrase hadn’t been coined at the time. My main problem wasn’t that I didn’t believe in him but that I didn’t like him.

There is a second book featuring this FBI agent but I’ll pass. I’d rather spend the time reading Kress’ ‘Probability Moon’ which is in my TBR pile.

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