LITERARY REVIEW

Bird brained, after all

SCIENCE FICTION

JAMES PATTERSON'S newest book, The Lake House, is disappointing and lives up neither to the promise of his own writing nor to the potential of the subject. This is a real pity, because an exciting, informed and imaginative account of a not-so-distant-future time in which the natural distinctions between "human" and non-human are undone would have been welcome.

The book tells the story of how six "bird" children, engineered in the "School", escape into the world outside and of how the world receives them and how they learn to navigate in this world of all too human frailties and failings.

However, the bird-human children's story has too little of bird and too much of human, since it cannot seem to find a way to tell of how the bird in the human would feel, think, and act and so is stuck in the obvious — in description of flight or physical appearance.

Max is a human who has been `improved' by genetic engineering... Injected with avian DNA as an embryo... Massive chest, fully three times deeper than that of a human... needs the extra musculature to support her wings.

Overlapping ribs and a protruding breastbone or `keel' that runs the length of her ribcage.

No breasts or nipples... Max will not deliver live young.

It seems obvious that the reader who would pick up such a book would surely require deeper, subtler and more nuanced scientific flight into the implications of such life forms. And would find the lack of such exploration frustrating.

This lack is central to why the book fails, and why the story comes undone, for the lack of depth in handling the subject is contagious — as the story too, then takes the much trodden human road, rather than the more unexplored bird passages — and so the "love" of the two main bird-human characters (Max and Oz), mimics the rather dull predictability of the two human (Frannie and Kit) characters' little love idyll. The conversations between the bird beings sound as "bird brained" as the rather mindless verbal dilly-dallying of the humans.

`I want to show you something,' Oz whispered. `My secret.' He unzipped the hood he was wearing and lifted up his T-shirt.

`The eagle, I know. You showed me last time.'

`No, there's more to it than that. Look closely,' said Oz. `Come closer, Max. Please. Don't be afraid to get close to me.'

Max did. She cosied up next to Ozymandias, feeling his warmth, smelling him, loving it. And there on the tattooed eagle's breast was a small red heart.

Inside it there were three inked letters in curling script: MAX.

Max gasped. `Is that a tattoo? Like, it's permanent?'

`It's a little rough,' Oz said. `But I did it myself. And you know, I was writing upside down.'

`Thank you. I love that you did that,' Max said softly. `I mean — I love it.'

So much human mush and then Max goes and lays an egg! Literally, as if that would strike the balance. Patterson seems like he would benefit with a bit of genetic engineering with his own brain, particularly those areas that deal with verbal and written communication, with story telling and book writing. Not to mention research!

Oh, but there are some good things about The Lake House — the way it looks, gorgeous paper and fonts, clear, pretty print, short chapters, almost never more than three pages long and a light weight, almost feather light feel to the whole book. So that you never feel it's 300-odd pages. Not even after you have read it!!

KALA KRISHNAN RAMESH

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