John Beowulf
(Trafford Publishing,
Victoria, B.C., Canada)
This topical sci-fi thriller reveals all the dark secrets of academic microbiology at the University of California. Here is the hero John, a failing graduate student, in a typical session with his Ph.D. thesis supervisor and boss.

    Carolyne Tanner was a smart, driven, accomplished professor of microbiology. Highly respected in her field, she had it all. "Kneel, you male student scum!" Carolyne snarled. She was dressed in her usual outfit ... black leather stiletto heels, a matching black leather bikini, and gloves. In her right hand, she held an English riding whip.

My own experience in this area, admittedly limited, is that Spanish riding whips are often preferred, especially in Microbiology departments.

John's supervisory committee also includes Dr. Stoole, another typical academic scientist.

    He stood only 5'4" and to make his height challenge all the more obvious, his neck had one less vertebrate than most humans making it appear like his head was screwed right onto his shoulders. Rounding off the unusual features of his person was the fact that he was quite far-sighted and the coke bottle glasses he wore made his face appear almost frog-like. He was a one-man show of poor judgment, bad research, and ugly politics.

[Parenthetically, I loved the author's use here of "vertebrate" where less imaginative writers would use the conventional term "vertebræ."]

Beset by these academic troubles, our hero visits the San Diego wild animal park to commune with the animals. There, a deep thought comes to him:

    The earth was a gift that people just did not deserve anymore ... they blew that privilege with SUVs, war, genocide, animal research, neutron weapons, overpopulation, global warming, and pop-up internet advertising.

At this point, the obvious solution occurs to John: create a viral plague to wipe out his detestable Ph.D. committee, and the rest of the human species for good measure. Returning to the lab, he spends a brisk week whipping up a deadly recombinant virus that combines the best features of SARS with those of Ebola. John spreads it around and then goes camping.

Alas, the virus succeeds only in killing Dr. Stoole and two innocent bystanders. Insufficiently familiar with the research literature --- John was, after all, a failing graduate student --- he had chosen an attenuated strain of SARS.

As in all great metaphysical novels, this little disappointment brings its hero psychic redemption:

    His SARBOLA probably failed anyway. Perhaps it was all for the better. It didn't matter really if it had failed for Mother Nature would always bat last, no matter what. It was time to go home.

After this high point, it only remains for John to reunite with his lost love Kimba --- granddaughter of the legendary Wehrmacht general Erwin Rommel, as it happens --- and after a steamy love scene the two of them sail off together, into the sunset, in a luxury yacht.

As this reader wiped away a tear, he recalled with pleasure the book's many flights of poetic language. For example, at one point it refers to microbiologists at "The Pasture Institute" in Paris, perhaps a place where over-age French researchers are put out to Pasture. But my favorite flight is the following idyllic account of the lovers:

    John loved to show Kimba the things he cared about ... the plants and animals of the Santa Monica Mountains, the stars and planets that shown at night, the beaches and his classical guitar. Kimba taught him kindness and love, her poetry, and how erstwhile a young lady's body could be.

A few more efforts like this and the Trafford publishing company will learn how erstwhile a publisher can be.

--- Dr. Phage
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