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The Deus Machine

Current Status:
In Season
Pierre Ouellette
Sci-fi and Fantasy, Mystery and Thriller, Fiction

We gave it a B

When you summarize it, THE DEUS MACHINE (Villard, $22.50), sounds like a mulligan stew of science fiction’s most tired cliches. There’s a computer (supercolossal, naturally) that develops actual intelligence, a DNA experiment that goes stupendously wrong, and a menagerie of pestilent monsters (several of them actually bug-eyed) running around loose. Oh, and to save the world, there’s a handsome genius, a beautiful scientist, and a cuddly (but endlessly clever) 8-year-old boy. At first glance the whole business seems strictly grade Z. But in the case of Pierre Ouellette’s 443-page first novel, summaries can be deceiving. Not only a terrific read, this is a cautionary entertainment with real brains. Simon Greeley, a bureaucrat at the Office of Management and Budget in the year 2005, discovers that nearly $500 million of government money has been clandestinely invested in an Oregon computer company called ParaVolve. But before Greeley can testify in Congress, he’s poisoned with a laboratory virus that turns him into a howling lunatic. Enter Michael Riley. Lately a movie soundman but formerly a cryptographer for the National Security Agency, he’s recruited to confirm or dismiss Greeley’s allegations. After infiltrating ParaVolve, Riley discovers that a neofascist cabal (masterminded by none other than the President’s chief of staff) has funded the creation of ”the most complex thing ever produced by humankind”-a computer comprising a quarter million microprocessors. When completed, deus (Dynamically Evolved and Unified System) will be thoroughly fluent in the ”language of God,” able to decode the final mysteries of creation and create living organisms on demand. And create them it does-a boundless variety of new plant and animal life ungratefully intent on destroying the machine that spawned them. (Why they want to eliminate their cybernetic parent is one of the novel’s most ingenious surprises. Suffice it to say that the reason has as much to do with theology as it does with genetics.)

Ouellette is so keen on biotechnology and electronics systems that the lay reader (who doesn’t know his DOS from his elbow) could easily be intimidated by the amount of hard science that’s jammed into the adventure. Fortunately, the author has a sure instinct for clarity and an absolute genius for metaphor. Too bad Ouellette doesn’t have a similar penchant for original characterization. The major players here are all standard pop-novel types: The good guys are very, very good, and the bad guys-particularly Counterpoint, the chief villain, who likes to prey sexually on little boys-are just plain loathsome. But still, The DEUS Machine is an unremittingly inventive work of near-future fiction, showcasing the best, and hungriest, predators since Jurassic Park. B