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by James Patrick Kelly
Wildlife has a wonderful cover, a crisp collage of bright images, including a spaceship, a ravelling DNA double helix, and the Statue of Liberty, all of which are relevant to the story. Unfortunately, the cover is the most likable thing about the book.
As the story opens, video journalist Wynne Cage is escaping from a space station where she accompanied a data thief who has just stolen WILDLIFE, a collection of data which may or may not be the key to true artificial intelligence. From this less-than-original start, the novel keeps sinking even deeper into a morass of cliche's about sex, drugs, and AI.
The first section of the book is from Wynne's point of view, and covers her escape, her developing love affair with the twisted man who commissioned the raid, and her loathing for herself and her father. The second section takes place several years earlier, and is told from the point of view of her father, Tony Cage, a rich and famous designer of recreational drugs. The third section jumps forward about a hundred years and centers on Wynne's son Peter and his bizarre relationship with Wynne. The fourth and final section centers on Wynne again, except that by this time there are several of her, not all of which are legally alive. The effect of all this skipping around in time is to give an overview of the social and technological changes over a century, although the society viewed is primarily that of the filthy rich. ("My dear Wynne, money only gets filthy if you let the grubs handle it.")
The central theme in Wildlife is the conflict between parents and children, with the added weirdness that the Cages are all clones of their "parents," give or take the gender. The parents alienate their children by attempting to control them, and the children turn around and exact terrible revenge, which rapidly grows tiresome. I'm not even going to touch all the various sorts of cages and wombs throughout the book.
Kelly isn't actually a bad writer, as such. His prose isn't bad, and every now and then he turns out a wonderful phrase that's wasted on a book this unpleasant. ("Getting him to talk about himself is like moving a refrigerator.") He does have an irritating habit of dropping in didactic little passages about subjects like Stonehenge and Neptune.
Kelly's trying--trying so hard that it's painful to watch--to write a novel that has depths beyond the usual straightforward cyberpunk angst and adventure. This is certainly commendable, and I'd like to see more authors try this, but somewhere in the process of assembling his themes and symbols, he ended up with a novel about unlikable people doing unpleasant things to one another with fairly meaningless and cliche'd results.
Reading Wildlife is like watching flies pull the wings off of each other. Avoid.
-- Christina Schulman.
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