The Ego Cluster is a novel that easily falls into the “hard science” fiction category, meaning believable science and not fanciful spaceships or exotic aliens is what the story is all about.
The character-driven plot centers on idealistic scientists Ethan Hendersen who seemingly discovers a gene cluster that controls much of self-interested human decision making. By altering those genes, Hendersen believes he can diminish sociopathic tendencies, change humankind to be more empathetic, logical, gain mental clarity, and be less narrow-minded.
Working for a company dominated by just such a sociopathic bureaucrat, Hendersen teams with fellow scientist Amelia Holt. The two form a romantic and professional relationship as they conduct experiments not sanctioned by the company. Things begin to spiral out of control when they are forced to resign from their employer before they take their experiments to a secretive laboratory where they learn their goals are far from those of their apparent new boss, Stefano Croce.
Battle lines are drawn when their ostensible supervisor, Dr. Doug Ashton, learns how they are all being duped by a dangerous cartel who wants to use any new drugs to destroy politicians wanting to empower the people at the expense of rich corporations. At the same time, governments and those greedy corporations don’t want to address the growing threats from global warming, and environmentalist Professor Caleb Fuller becomes part of the small group of Henderson, Holt, and Ashton, who are the only ones who can save humanity from near genocide.
In terms of action and increasingly fatal encounters across Australia, The Ego Cluster is a slow burner. The first part of the book takes place mostly in or near laboratories where Cole establishes his characters, sets personality conflicts in motion, and deftly demonstrates how all the science is plausible. On one hand, the possibilities of Hendersen’s research show promise and hope for the future. On the other, just what are the consequences of untested drugs in the general populace? Who has the right to determine what direction humanity should take?
In short, The Ego Cluster is both readable and cerebral, a book for those who like engaging characters who get swept up into ever-increasing webs of intrigue and danger. The philosophical points Cole is making are delivered with subtlety, although the villains are very dark indeed and the heroes are obviously admirable from their first appearances. Well, most of them. Cole has many surprises as the circles of deception come into clearer and clearer focus.
You could consider The Ego Cluster as much a mystery as science fiction, and that’s not a bad hybrid. When you finally set the book down, you might find yourself wondering just how feasible it all is. When the chips come down the way they do, what choices would you make if it was you?
This review was first published at BookPleasures.com: