Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan
Copyright 2013
William Morrow - Fiction/Hmm - Science Fiction?
426 pp.


On the overnight we did the proper, correct, appropriate thing: we got smashed.

"Don't worry, lovely, I'm not going to attempt some tawdry seduction on you," [Billings] said, wobbling in the aisle against the sway of the train.  "Altogether too much the scientist, don't you know." He flopped into the seat beside me.  "Socially spastic, few deep allegiances, suspected of borderline Asperger's.  You know the lot. My brother aside, you're the closest thing I have to a friend."

~p. 58, Advance Reader Copy of The Curiosity (some changes may have been made to the final print version)

I'm going to have to go with the Q/A routine for this title.

What led you to pick up The Curiosity?

The description grabbed me - a science thriller in which a human is found in an iceberg and brought back to life?  Freaky.  I liked the idea.

Summarize the plot but don't give away the ending:

Erastus Carthage is an award-hungry, egotistical scientific genius who has been experimenting with the concept of "reanimating" frozen creatures -- primarily tiny life forms such as plankton and krill.  He has hired a team of scientists to search for more and bigger creatures to bring back to life.  At the beginning of the novel, the team is on a ship and they've found an extremely large iceberg.  Inside that iceberg is a man who died in 1906.  Can he be brought back to life?  If so, what does this say about the concept of death and an afterlife?  Given the known (and by "known", I mean in this work of fiction) stages of reanimated life, how long can a man brought back to life remain alive?

Capsule description:

Dead man is brought to life and held captive by scientists. Religious fundamentalists go crazy, lonely female scientist falls for the man and tries to spring him from his aquarium-like room, risking her career and possibly putting the man's life at even greater risk.

What did you like best about The Curiosity?

I loved the man who is brought back to life, Jeremiah Rice. The author makes it clear that Jeremiah is a gentleman from a graceful past, thrust into a new world.  Part of the point is obviously to highlight the differences between Jeremiah's literate and highly moral life and the modern world with its casual use of vulgar language, acceptance of violence and lack of genuine interaction between people enclosed in their own little electronic bubbles.  I'm not actually sure what the theme to The Curiosity was, though.  More about that in a moment.

What did you dislike about The Curiosity?

Erastus Carthage is a rich, egotistical, scientific genius jerk.
Daniel Dixon is a sleazy hack reporter.
Kate Philo is a scientist with a heart.
Jeremiah Rice is a former judge, brought back to life after a painful drowning death.

These are the four voices through which the story is told in alternating chapters.  Because Erastus and Daniel are truly appalling people and so archetypal that they're practically caricatures, half the time the book feels like a joke and the rest of the time it's almost, but not quite, a reflective and romantic tale of science and life. But, they're not the only archetypes. I chose the quote at the top of this post because I think it gives you a good idea of the author's unfortunate choice to portray just about every character as a narrowly-defined archetype. That honestly drove me bananas.

On to the storyline.  If you can get past a scientific idea that is so much of a stretch that it should be placed in the future (but which might have worked better if the scientists hadn't made a jump from animating tiny creatures to something as big as a human) and the two disgusting characters through whom you must see half the story portrayed, then what you're left with is a lonely female questioning herself and a gentleman from the past observing our present. Is The Curiosity a romance?  Well, not really.  Is it a scientific thriller?  Not quite. Apart from some really exciting scenes at the end of the book The Curiosity doesn't really fall into "thriller" territory and the science is wildly improbable because of the missing steps between the animation of little shrimp and big human.  Is it about corruption (political and scientific) combined with lack of morality?  Hmm, the elements are there but there are moral people, as well.  They just get shoved off to the side.  Secrets and lies and surprises? Religious zealotry? Yeah, yeah.  Some of that. Honestly, it's all over the place.

Share a favorite scene from the book:

There's not particular scene that jumps out at me, but there were some great moments in The Curiosity.  I liked pretty much every scene involving the hippie genius goofball scientist.  I loved the moment when Jeremiah was discovered in the ice, although it was cut short, probably to ramp up suspense.  I liked the scenes in which Jeremiah talked about literature and life.  When Jeremiah quoted a line from "Andrea del Sarto" by Robert Browning, I marked it and then promptly forgot where I'd read that wonderful line, then rustled around for a few days and figured it out:

"A man's reach should exceed his grasp--or what's a heaven for?"

I want to frame that line.  I'm glad I read about Jeremiah for the bits of wisdom and the look at our world through the eyes of a man who lived over a century ago.  I thought Kate was a likable character, as well, although I was not thrilled with the denouement in regard to the changes in her life.

In general:

I was entertained and annoyed by this book.  I absolutely detested the chapters that were told through the eyes of Erastus Carthage and Daniel Dixon, to the point that I considered abandoning the book, although I was curious enough that I decided to hang in there.  Had the book been told entirely from Kate's perspective or in 3rd person, I think it might have worked better.  The ending was a terrible let-down.  I can't share what I disliked about the ending without giving away too much but I will say I that because the story was Hollywood-like in its characterization I thought a big, overblown and exciting ending would have been fitting and definitely satisfying.  Might as well close it with the big-bang, someone-saves-the-day, after all that build-up.

I was also very disappointed that one particular thread was brought up and pretty much dropped: What became of Jeremiah's descendants?  I thought that was lazy on the author's part.  He could have easily made that portion of the story complete and fulfilling with the addition of a scene or two.

Recommended or not?

Uh, maybe?  I liked The Curiosity but it was not a favorite. You seriously have to be able to suspend disbelief.  The jump from reanimating tiny creatures to reanimating humans was far too much of a stretch.  But, was The Curiosity fun reading?  At times. I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen, in spite of some extremely heavy-handed foreshadowing. I liked the questions the story brought up, even if I thought the book was almost cartoonish in its excesses. Maybe it would make a better graphic novel than a book.  The author can write but he just went too far in some ways and fell flat in others, plot-wise.  I actually think it would be a fun book to discuss. The fact that the story is a little too big for its britches means it touched on a lot of topics that are worthy of discussion.  Good, bad, love, hate.  I don't regret reading The Curiosity but it's not a book I'll tell all my friends to read.

I love Ryan's review of The Curiosity at Wordsmithonia.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of The Curiosity from HarperCollins in return for an unbiased review.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. Hmm Kind of glad I didn't order this for the library. Sounds intriguing but.. I sure wish everyone on Amazon would write reviews like you do Nancy.

    1. LOL It's definitely "intriguing, but . . . " Thanks, Paula! You're too kind. :)

  2. The more time passes since I finished this one, the less I'm liking Kate, so without Jeremiah, the book would have been dashed to pieces. I still liked it, but the ending just sticks in my craw. Great review and I'm glad I'm not alone on this one.

    1. I thought that same thing as I was writing, about Kate. She was, again, too much the archetype. I liked the fact that she was a kindhearted person, but I didn't necessarily agree with her choices -- nor did I always find them (or the characterization) easy to buy into. The ending was like a Coke that's been left out on the counter and lost its fizz. You're so looking forward to that drink and then you just want to spit it back out. I wanted that ending to be something else very badly. Thanks! I was so glad to see you felt the same!

  3. Hm. The premise sounds real interesting to me, even if it is a stretch. Sounds like one I'd like to give a try someday, but won't have high hopes of.

    1. I would not tell you to avoid it, Jeane. I still enjoyed the reading. A book doesn't have to be perfect to be a fun read or worth talking about. :)


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!