Dave Freedman Natural Selection

ISBN 13: 9781401308575

Natural Selection

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9781401308575: Natural Selection
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When marine scientists begin to see huge chunks bitten out of enormous dolphins, and they can’t identify the tooth marks as those of any sea creature that they know of, they become concerned and intrigued. The group of scientists begins to track the mysterious beasts up the California coast, coming closer and closer to what seems to be a group of prehistoric manta rays that has evolved into a massive predatory machine. Finally they converge upon the mantas, only to discover the horrifying fact that the leader has figured out how to fly and is attacking people on a remote island in the area. Then the real hunt begins—but will the scientists be the hunters or the prey?

Dave Freedman spins an utterly gripping tale, weaving science and thriller in the manner of Jurassic Park and Jaws.

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About the Author:

DAVE FREEDMAN lives in Southern California with his wife. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Princeton and a master's degree from Harvard. Natural Selection is his first novel.

From The Washington Post:

Dave Freedman opens Natural Selection with a transparent Hollywood tagline: "Monsters aren't real . . . Are they?" He moves through a dry outline of his speculative conceits concerning evolution. And he concludes: "Soon a small group of men and women will come face-to-face with a living nightmare. And then, even the skeptics among them will realize not only that monsters are real, but that evolution has just made the most horrifying one of them all."

As a dramatic introduction to the story waiting in the wings, this is an utter misstep, emblematic of several subsequent amateur gaffes in this debut novel.

Still, readers who persist past this awkward introduction and overlook intermittent wince-worthy sentences will find an earnest Michael Crichton-style thriller that respects science and its audience's intellect, while delivering a modest number of chills.

Six scientists -- Phil, Jason, Lisa, Darryl, Craig and Monique -- aboard a well-equipped research vessel, funded by a dot-com millionaire named Harry Ackerman, are conducting commercial investigations into the deep-sea lives of various species of manta rays. Several anomalies lead them to believe that a new type of ray has begun to emerge. And the giant unprecedented beastie soon proves itself to be a master predator. So far, so bad, for life in the sea. But when this critter exhibits the ability to fly and breathe air, humanity itself is threatened. As the mutant rays colonize a state park along California's coast, gobbling bears, deer and the occasional jogger, our team finds its mission changing from documentation to defensive survival.

Freedman introduces his protagonists economically, sketching them in bold bright colors that substitute for depth. Ackerman is capitalism personified, in both its good and bad aspects. Jason, the leader of the scientists, is an anal perfectionist loner. Darryl is a mystical Afro-Amerindian "former ROTC member," his wife, Monique, a supportive helpmeet yearning to start a family. Craig is Darryl's best buddy. Lisa is career-motivated but caring. Whiny, insecure Phil, who looks at first to be an obvious "redshirt" -- the guy fated to die early, as in the old Star Trek episodes -- proves to have facets of both selfishness and selflessness. Relations among the cast involve a lot of nickname usage -- "Hoss," "Soccer Mom," "Big Dog" -- while a budding love affair between Jason and Lisa provides the requisite romance. Jumps in point-of-view among the characters -- sometimes disconcertingly between adjacent paragraphs -- frustrate our identification with any single hero.

The intelligent mantas also let us into their thought process, and Freedman generally manages to avoid the trap of anthropomorphism, providing insights into the environmental pressures the critters face and their natural urges.

In fact, Freedman's portrayal of the scientific process and of natural forces is the best thing about this book. In a day and age when "intelligent design" is touted as a respectable credo, a piece of pop entertainment that takes the time to uphold Darwin's thesis in readable fashion is to be heartily endorsed, even if the book speeds up evolution to a ridiculous rate.

Freedman's prose is serviceable, and he has a knack for using common objects to make the uncanny believable. For instance: "The closed mouth [of the ray] was the size of a snow shovel, with horns like stumpy soda cans sticking out on either side." But now and then his reach exceeds his grasp. Darryl is "the size of a professional athlete." Now is that a jockey, a golfer, a bowler or a quarterback?

The climax of Freedman's book is small-scale: one manta ray against six humans. Although he speculates on larger scenarios, he resolutely avoids depicting the global implications of his monsters, as John Wyndham did in The Day of the Triffids (1951), or even as Alfred Hitchcock did in "The Birds" (1963). Too bad.

For boldness of global scope, Freedman might have emulated an episode of "The Simpsons" in which humanity is deposed from its throne atop all creation and driven into an aquatic niche by vengeful, super-intelligent dolphins led by "King Snorky." In that one vignette, Freedman's entire thesis and plot are encapsulated with unforgettable humor. And you got to see Homer sock a bottlenose in the snout.

Reviewed by Paul Di Filippo
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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