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Extinction: Thriller by Kazuaki Takano

Extinction: Thriller

by Kazuaki Takano

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Jonathan Yeager has just finished a tour working for a private defence contractor, protecting VIPs visiting Baghdad - in plainer terms, a mercenary - when he is recruited for a secret mission in Africa. Operation Guardian is to seek out and kill a group who may be infected by a deadly virus but its members are also given the strange instruction to kill on sight a “living creature you’ve never seen before,” a creature which becomes immediately clear is the operation’s real target.

Kento Koga is a pharmaceutical research worker whose father, a virologist, has just died. He receives an email from his dead father asking him to look in a certain book and not to tell anyone. In there he finds an ATM card and a memo informing him about a hidden laptop of which he is never to relinquish control, an address to go to and to expect all his communications to be monitored. The building contains equipment for carrying out Organic Chemistry reactions and he is tasked with researching and synthesising an agonist for a mutant form of the protein GPR769,l to be completed within one month.

Unfortunately the prologue, which describes a meeting in the White House, dissipates any sense of mystery about the reasons for Operation Guardian as it reveals the existence of a new life form (an evolved human, or more precisely a Pygmy born into the Kanga band of Mbuti.) This may lead to the extinction of the human race and of course is seen as a threat to the US. The President here is named as Gregor S Burns but reads as an extremely thinly disguised version of George W Bush, as he ordered an invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and declared victory before the war was won.

The US security apparatus is also concerned about leaks to human rights organisations concerning extraordinary rendition (a procedure which Takano feels the need to explain to us at length.) A secondary purpose of Operation Guardian is to kill the leaker, Warren Garrett, one of its members, who wishes to intimidate President Burns into stopping rendition/torture by revealing the evidence to threaten him with a war crimes tribunal. We all know this could never really happen and like the text’s attempts to soften Yeager and the other members of the operation is rather limp. These are killers after all.

And the relationship between the two strands? Yeager’s son Justin suffers from pulmonary alveolar epithelial cell sclerosis, or PAECS, which is the fatal disease caused by mutant GPR769. There are occasional passages from other points of view which are only visited the once.

Takano has characters hark on violence’s inevitability. “We project our true colours onto our enemies, fear them, and attack them. And in using violence against others, the nation and religion are the support systems that pardon our actions.” Maybe so; but, “‘War is just another form of cannibalism. Humans use their intelligence to try to hide their instinct for cannibalism,’” Really? Again, “‘Good deeds are seen as virtuous precisely because they run counter to human nature,’” which is definitely arguable. The point is in any case somewhat undermined by Koga’s determination to succeed and the members of Operation Guardian ending up protecting the creature - a three-year old named Akili.

The descriptions of the mechanics involved in undertaking Organic Chemistry are also not convincing. And a month to synthesise a chemical’s agonist from scratch - even with the help of an advanced computer programme - is more than a tall order. The violent scenes, in addition to being curiously perfunctory, read more like reportage at a remove. Then there is the skating over of the ethics of administering an untested drug (actually two drugs; an allosteric agent is also required) on human patients.

Extinction is an uneasy mix of military fiction and thriller. A work of pure SF would surely focus more on the evolved human. Granted, Akili has an undeveloped pharynx and is therefore incapable of speech (though can two-finger type.) He can factorise large numbers into their prime components so compromising the security of encrypted data and communication between computers but otherwise his agency is limited. Not so Koga’s mysterious telephonic prompter, a further link between the two main narratives.

Whether it is a consequence of translation is difficult to determine but the writing is plodding. It is also full of redundancies and meanderings of various sorts such as a disquisition on the lack of remuneration scientists receive for their endeavours. The slightest action is described, information dumping is intrusive, often ad hoc and frequently unnecessary. One phrase read, “Yeager, who’d had reconnoitring training.” Haven’t all soldiers?

As SF, Extinction is nugatory. Action thriller devotees may wish to take a look. ( )
  jackdeighton | Aug 18, 2017 |
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