Living Proof, by first time novelist Kira Peikoff, has a really great concept and is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and the book was published on February 28, 2012 by Tor/Forge Books.
The story takes place in the near future, where Dr. Arianna Drake is running a fertility clinic under the careful watch of the government – which monitors the production of every embryo so that no embryos can be used for stem cell research or harmed in any way. This is the Christian-extremist version of the near future, which doesn’t really seem all that far-fetched. Personhood is now defined at the creation of every embryo rather than at birth or during the fetal period. So not only is every embryo tagged and monitored, but every pregnant woman is subject to government review every month and is considered a criminal if she does anything (like drinking a glass of wine) to harm her fetus.
Arianna is careful to pass every government inspection, but she has a secret. She’s working with a team of scientists to clone embryos for stem cell research. Her mission? To find a cure for the impending condition of multiple sclerosis that will have her in a wheelchair within months.
Unfortunately, a growing number of women seem to be visiting the clinic, and the government is suspicious. So they send in an agent, Trent, to get to know her. Trent poses as a romantic interest and lures her into friendship so he can learn more about what she’s doing. Trent considers himself to be a Christian and a good government employee, but he also struggles with the morality of what his religious beliefs and his job require him to do.
I’ll stop there with the plot summary. What follows is a mix of science fiction, thriller, and just generally a good story that raises a lot of important issues. I always find it’s hard to mix good story-telling and point-making but this book does it well. In the process I also learned a ton about stem cell research and embryo production, but I’ll admit a lot of it went over my head.
Arianna is an awesome character, strong and smart and courageous, although her vulnerability with Trent is frustrating. She is so guarded yet she meets Trent and believes everything he tells her. I wanted to shake her and yell “wake up you idiot!” But at the same time, here’s a woman who’s so independent and intelligent, and lives under this huge burden of disability and impending death, that you can totally understand her wanting to believe in somebody.
At times her mission to cure MS also seems a little selfish, because she’s putting other scientists and friends at great risk. But clearly, a cure for her will be ground-breaking for many others, and could possibly change the political trajectory for stem cell research. And you can hardly blame someone for trying to cure their own disease first.
An interesting note about the author: While studying journalism at NYU, she reported on the White House for the Orange County Register. In the summer of 2006, she watched as President Bush announced a veto to deny federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. That experience led to the creation of this book.
All in all, this book was enjoyable, fast-moving, easy to read yet full of interesting social, political, religious and scientific issues. Highly recommended.