Dr. James Healy and his team of scientists are on the verge of a breakthrough in gene therapy. Together, they work tirelessly to complete the tests that would allow for the next step: testing on volunteer humans. However, DNA-altered virus being tested breaks free in a quiet way, allowing it to spread like a common cold. Dr. Healy is the first to figure out what happened and sadly he must watch as his family and friends become stupid even as he himself struggles to remain intelligent long enough to find a cure.
The book starts off a touch slow, but then starts delving into the science, which hooked me. Dr. Healy is in charge of the treatment of a young girl (Cathy Gobrin) who suffers from a metabolic genetic disease. If she doesn’t live on a special diet, her metabolism goes sideways and her IQ drops to the point where she can barely feed herself. This is probably Dr. Healy’s motivation for having set the research and experiments in place for a new gene therapy treatment.
There is a lot of character development, which I enjoyed. It gave the story a harder punch when my favorite characters started to decline due to this unleashed disease. While the book is written with an almost 1950s flavor (no cussing, no cell phones, etc.), there are female scientists and cultural and ethnic diversity in the characters. I really appreciated that this scifi story wasn’t dominated by White male characters making all the decisions.
The stupid sickness, which is a practical thing to call this new man-made disease, made it hard for the affected to concentrate, often dredging up rhymes or bits of song from the person’s childhood and playing them on a loop in the background all the time. It’s like when you have a bit of song stuck in your head that won’t leave. Memory and impulse control also become shoddy. I really enjoyed all the social implications of having a stupid population. How would the government keep other nations from taking over? Would marriages hold up to impatient spouses? Would school systems even be around after a generation? It was a great way to explore all these questions and more.
The book fell into natural thirds. The first third was a lot of character development and science info dumps (fine with me). The second third is where we the reader know the altered virus has escaped confinement but the characters haven’t figured it out yet (plenty of yummy suspense here). The last third has the most action as many of our characters are short on impulse control and Dr. Healy and his friends race against the virus’s clock to find a remedy (also a very good section). Over all, I found this a very satisfying story that came with plenty of philosophical food for thought.
Narration: Charles Henderson Norman was a good fit. We see almost the entire book through Dr. Healy’s eyes and Norman made a very good Dr. Healy. He also had distinct voices for both female and male characters. He has a goo voice for little girls too.