EDITA A. PETRICK — THE KILLER’S KEEPER — 2017
This is a police — FBI, County Sheriff and City Police — story and their nice rivalry, though in the back of the story, thank God. As a thriller or suspense story, it works well though the main theme is slow to clearly come into view for maybe one fourth of the story. But as soon as we have made the connection then the line is neat and absolutely not fuzzy and it reveals surprises at every single step. If you read the book like that it is definitely gripping and intriguing and along that way, it also reveals how police teams work: two partners on a case are necessarily challenging each other. The challenge is all the more interesting here since the two partners are a man and a woman and the woman is of mixed Chinese descent. The location too is interesting since we are in northern California, but not in San Francisco or Sacramento per se but a lot farther north, in Eureka.
But the main interest of this book is its dystopian science fiction dimension. Science fiction since it considers the possibility of having babies gestated and born entirely, from beginning to end, in an artificial womb. Science fiction since it states that cryogenic technology has advanced to the point of being able to keep the fully developed fetus (9 months of artificial pregnancy) in total frozen lethargy. Science fiction again when it considers one of the twelve “babies” in their artificial cocoons is totally mentally active and can actually project his (note the twelve “babies” are only males) mind out of his cocoon and invade, take control of the mind of another person outside, though it seems to be limited in range to some surrounding area. Science fiction again since this “baby” is conscious of his fate: he is going to be terminated in something like fifteen days, and has been conscious of his fate for nine years, mind you, and has all along committed crimes, murders actually, by taking over one proxy-murderer who killed someone and then bringing the proxy murderer to his or her own end. I will not enter details on the nine or ten cases (there is some discussion on how many really). But the science fiction reveals quite a few things, fears, frights even, definitely social “norms” by clearly associating some elements to the murders and the crimes, hence to non-politically correct events.
The very first question asked here is the identity of the father, hence the mad scientist. The father of the technology is Rutger Haus, with a German name, of course, to be the real Mendele/Frankenstein that devises the cocoon for the full gestating procedure of a “fetus-child” to the birthing point. The same father of the technology to deep freeze a living organism into some kind of cryogenic lethargy. And the same father to devise the procedure to defrost the “fetus-child” into being born. This Rutger Haus is gay and has a friend named Thomas Bok. They go away together and drop the business and Thomas Bok will end up killing Rutger Haus. The follow-up work on this murder is not done, thus implying that being gay is a criminal act of some kind. Thomas Bok disappears in thin air.
But this father, seen as some kind of Dr. Mendele/Frankenstein, needs a business father and this is Edwin Rydall who controls the Rydall business that started in Florida, then moved to San Diego, California, with an extension in San Francisco and they finally moved to Eureka. Their specialty is fertility and how to help some parents who cannot manage to produce a child by their own means, to just do so artificially, first with test-tube babies and implantation of the fertilized egg in the mother (never a surrogate mother) and even more for adults that can afford it the full pregnancy in an artificial womb. The point with these rich customers is that they run into difficult marital times and the “fetus-babies” get frozen for a maximum of nine years waiting for the court decisions. Note this number nine, imposed by the nine months of human pregnancy, but it is also a symbolical mark of evil, the beast, the devil, etc. Note there are nine murders by proxy though this number is not clear since one case has two victims and the case of FBI Agent John Salton is more or less pending. Note that at the end the only case in which the proxy murderer is not dead in a way or another is precisely this John Salton’s case. John Salton is the father of the proxy murderer who managed to burn his own mother alive when he was two years old.
But Edwin Rydall being dead and Rutger Haus having left the business and having later been assassinated, a substitute father is necessary. And it is Dr. Winston who is overlooking the artificial fertility center of the new institution Nascent in Eureka.
And yet that cannot work if there is no mother. The last wish of Edwin Rydall was to have a child from a younger woman’s egg, and that woman is simply a prostitute. The child is artificially produced by artificial fertilization and gestating of the “fetus-child” in an artificial womb. It was the first case of cryogenic freezing since the two parents died in a yacht accident before the birth of the “fetus-child.” And that is the core of the debate because in two weeks the nine-year waiting clause will come to an end. The corporation wants to terminate the “fetus-child” though the family of the mother wants to birth him in order to put their hands on the corporation. They are greedy and totally unethical. It is the responsibility of the substitute father to terminate the “fetus-child.” And that’s where the substitute mother becomes very important.
She is called Dr. Claire Fairchild. Her name is a double declaration of her clarity, luminosity, and at the same time of her perfect motherhood. Note this concept of clarity, generally referred to with the adjective “clear” is a central concept of Scientology and Dianetics, and it makes this Doctor at once suspicious: in a way “too clear to be honest.” She is the one who straightened up the genetic genome of the future child who is named Nathan, but since he has not been christened yet, he is only known by his serial number in the institution and it is 123. Dr. Claire Fairchild produced a perfect genome, hence child, but the book works on the assumption that a human personality is a particular point on a continuum from absolute evil to absolute perfection and that the two extremes are only one. Hence perfection is the most pregnant — more pregnant than that you die — source of evil, and that is a direct criticism of all mad-science theories that preach clarity as the supreme human goal, and first of all Scientology and Dianetics. So Nathan being perfect has to be the evilest “fetus-child” you can imagine. He thus has a power that no one ever had: to project his mind out of the cocoon and to take over full control of a person or a couple of person outside and these people have to transmit to the world an apocalyptic message representing his fright in front of his fate, the fate of being terminated sooner or later and that has been going on over nine years to reach its end now.
The whole argument then is between the two substitute parents, the substitute father, Dr. Winston who is for termination, and the substitute mother, Dr. Claire Fairchild, who considers termination as murder and is for birthing the “fetus-child.” The end then is dramatic because Dr. Winston gets killed by Dr. Claire Fairchild peripatetic antics and Dr. Claire Fairchild realizes she does not know how to birth the “fetus-child.” She tries with all the other eleven cocoons and fails of course. So the last one, 123 or Nathan, would be terminated the same way but since his mind is active and alive she follows the example of the Winchester brothers and she looks for a vessel for this mind. The vessel will be Jake Salton, the autistic child of FBI agent John Salton who was institutionalized in Nascent under the responsibility of Dr. Claire Fairchild. You can imagine the mess of releasing a criminal mind in an autistic child who became autistic due to some trauma, his own killing his own mother at the age of two. You can imagine what he will do to Dr. Claire Fairchild.
And that’s what is fascinating in this novel. Of course, we know that this science is today possible and is probably tested in some laboratories in the USA or in China or even other countries. There is always a Dr. Mendele or a Dr. Frankenstein to get into human experimentation. Of course our very common belief in our religious societies hardly out of fundamentalism, if they are in any way out of fundamentalism, that man is a body that is mortal and a soul that is immortal, there is only one step to consider this soul is released by death and it can transmigrate anywhere it wants, not only paradise or hell, and is there any purgatory, isn’t there? That’s the most frightening element.
Now, all along the voice of this unborn “fetus-child” was present in short paragraphs in italics. How is that possible and that’s where the book is also accurate but not enough?
A fetus can hear from the 24th week of pregnancy onwards, essentially its mother’s voice and that fetus can record in its mind (already being built within its brain and body) clusters of sounds it identifies due to their repetitive presence: names of siblings and people around the mother and common words used by the mother or the people around her. Without entering into detail it is quite clear that, from the 24th week of pregnancy onwards, the fetus is becoming a child because he (no longer it, though it could become she, though not in this novel) is discovering the first articulation of language: vowels and consonants getting linked together into clusters. But he cannot know the referential value of these clusters since he cannot see what they are applied to.
The Nascent institution is trying to develop this element: the “fetus-children” are in translucent cocoons and they can see (from about the same time as hearing onwards) what has been painted on the walls and ceiling, fairy tales’ monsters and characters, and a certain Janet, playing the role of the mother’s voice, reads to them stories, not fairy tales because they are full of violence as she explains, but the classics like Shakespeare. I guess she has not read a lot of Shakespeare because even the most luminous love stories become somber and dark with poison, death, and whatever you can imagine in Shakespeare’s plays.
That would mean the “fetus-children” could actually learn the second articulation of language based on the referential values of the clusters I have spoken of and they would be able to get from the readings, two or three times a day, the third articulation that produces sentences? Hence Nathan 123 could be considered as having mastered some language. But that is surprising though and I am afraid that just as the “soul” is seen as being able to transmigrate into Jake Salton this soul was endowed by the creator who can be the laboratory, the mad scientist(s), God, or simply nature, with the control of language. Just as I doubt the possible transmigration of souls (absolutely believed in as an absolute truth by the Tibetan Buddhists for example) I would doubt very much, as a linguist, this endowment of this soul with the linguistic ability and fully developed tool.
But we have to suspend our scientific disbelief to read any literary story.
I am sure you would enjoy it if you managed to get it. And get the Kindle edition because you can add notes, highlight passages, copy other passages for quotations, and Kindle remembers where you stopped reading.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU