Friday, 27 July 2001

M. John Harrison: Signs of Life (1997)

Edition: Flamingo, 1998
Review number: 885

The still quite new industry of bioengineering has always been an ethically controversial one. This is the subject of Harrison's novel, which describes the human relationships in a small firm of couriers specialising in the field. Their business hovers around the border of the illegal - biological waste, cultures and sometimes even live hosts are what they carry. The main characters, Mick "China" Rose and Choe Ashton, run the company; Rose narrates, and seems always to be more fastidious about what they do - quite often, he doesn't want to know what they are carrying.

The novel is set rather vaguely around the end of the twentieth century, though the event which drives the second half of the novel, the decision of Rose's girlfriend to have some experimental cosmetic surgery, definitely belongs to today's future. While not feeling like a science fiction novel, Signs of Life is full of ideas and certainly makes the reader think about the ethics of the industry and the lack of ethics of those working in it. As Harrison's past work leads us to expect, the novel is extremely well written; its subject matter, however, is not for the squeamish.

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