Friday, October 17, 2014

'Sharkman' by Steve Alten

Brilliant high school kid gets paralyzed. He discovers that shark DNA could help repair his injuries. He steals some, injects himself, and becomes a 2014 version of Aquaman. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ meets HGH meets great white meets puberty.

Sometimes it’s the books with the weirdest premises that turn out to be the best ones. This one certainly is. Steve Alten serves up another of his fast-paced thrill rides that is so good, it makes it impossible to do anything else. In the two days it took me to read this book I

1.    Burned dinner.
2.    Didn’t get to bed until after 12:30 AM.
3.    Was late for work once.
4.    Lied to a customer (and friend) so that I could get this book before him.
5.     Gave my little one a forty-five minute bath (normally it’s ten).
6.    Skipped my daily dose of “you ARE NOT the father” just so I could finish it.

It’s a magnificent feeling to find a book that you hate to put down. Then again, Steve’s writing has always done that for me. In this story we meet Kwan. An assimilated Asian-American who is paralyzed, due to a spinal injury caused by an accident. Kwan is smart guy, but he’s also a paralyzed teenager with an extremely rigorous military father, aka sperm donor. And when you add the always present teenage male angst with a number of other incidents, you get the perfect storm.

Most people (including me) would welcome having had their high school years in Florida. South Florida at that. But to Kwan it’s like a prison sentence having to adjust to a new high school in a wheelchair surrounded by other hormone induced angst ridden humans. His saving graces are a girl named Anya and the DNA of a bull shark.

Kwan’s high school works with an aquatics genetics lab that specialized in stem cell research involving sharks. At first Kwan has zero interest until finds out that Anya is involved. Then hormones take over because, lets be honest, they always do, and he volunteers to becomes an intern in the program as well.

Unfortunately nothing is as it seems and a story in the hands of Mr. Alten, even less so. There is a very dark underlying plot in this story that once I figured out, I wondered how the hell Steve was going to pull it off in such a short book.

How foolish of me to doubt him.

While the genetic facility IS doing edge-of-technology-science with shark stem cells, that is only a part of the whole. Our illustrious government has dug her claws in and you know when that happens, it’s only a matter of time before the fertilizer hits the fan. But let’s get back to Kwan… he’s fascinated at how far the science to cure people has come. It’s exciting, it’s cutting edge, and it’s within his reach. But he can also see and hear. He can see and hear the lab rats. The deformed, hurting, bleeding, squealing, grotesquely disfigured rats.

You can’t make an omelet with breaking a few eggs right? Well you can’t experiment with something as radical as using shark stem cells without breaking a few spines or liquefying a few skulls.

But in spite of seeing the rats, our modern-day Charlie Gordon decides that he wants to be whole again. There are some pretty extraordinary events that lead him to this decision, the least of which is feeling Anya’s breath or skin against his. With the help of an enemy (yeah I know, but read the book) Kwan sets his plan in motion. What happens is just FREAKING FREAKY! It’s also DAMN COOL! Steve can write y’all and I was just gone while I was reading this book!

There are also a number of side-plots and characters that add fuel to this fire under the water. The sexy Sabeen - The assassin with a tortured soul and a lithe body. The Admiral – a father with a heart like Cordilleran. Rachel – the calming force. (I really liked her.) Joe – the crass scientist with insatiable lust for the female flesh (I REALLY liked him). And the star of the show… bull shark DNA.

The science is uber-complex but Steve makes it understandable and fun on a layman’s level. The way he describes it I’d imagine he would be one hell of a fun teacher. From reading the ‘Meg’ series I understood some of the science, but everything else I learned on the fly and it didn’t slow the story down one bit. Anyway… once Kwan gets a taste of shark DNA his life takes a drastic turn. He’s surfing through it on cloud 9 fully unaware of the storm he’s causing.

If you put a gun to my head and said, “Jason, say one bad thing about this book.” Well… after I disarmed you and put two in your kneecaps, I would say “it’s too short.” But not “too short” in a bad way. “Too short” in an ‘Omega Project’ sort of way.

Don’t pass this book up because it’s ‘something that you would not normally read’. If you do then you are missing out on an author who has that “grab the reader” gift that so many claim, yet few actually possess. 

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