The Heaven Virus by Clifford A. Pickover
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I gave this book a try, I really did. Ultimately I got to page 168 out of a 364 page novel before giving up. The author, Cliff Pickover, may have a PhD from Yale, but that doesn’t mean he’s a good writer. I thought the writing in this book was very uneven, very stilted, very unbelievable, and just … not very good.
Nick is the protagonist. He takes a train to a mall in the NYC suburbs because someone named Miranda has been sending him messages telling him to. “All of your questions will be answered.” Seriously. What questions? Like why is some quack sending him cryptic message urging him to travel to meet her? I guess. So he goes, finds the mall, enters, thinks some things seem a little weird and then with some searching finds this mysterious Miranda, who happens to be a total hottie. He’s so lucky. Turns out he’s dead, she tells him. Cancer or something. And there’s an inventor named Dr. Adam Wolfchen who has invented something called the Afterlife chip, where you can magically upload someone, somehow, to the chip so they live on for eternity in this mall, for instance. And this has happened to Nick, although we’re never told who uploaded Nick to the chip. And Miranda’s a simulation who’s going to be Nick’s companion for eternity. Um, okay. (This book is partly based on the Internet site, Second Life, so I guess Pickover got many of his ideas from there.)
The thing that drove me nuts about this book is the author goes out of his way to prove his scientific linguistic skills are superior to anyone else who has ever lived, or so it seems. It seems like every other page is filled with words that are either ones no one ever uses and thus they don’t know what they mean, or they’re just trash — nonsense words. I hate having to break out a dictionary to read a novel. Dang it, I have three degrees in English and Writing. I shouldn’t be so easily stymied! Let me give an example or two:
Page 60: “Did you know the scent of roses comes from rose ketones and beta-damascone derived from carotenoid degradation?”
Page 151: “Controlled radical polymerization of methacrylic monomers in the presence of a bis (orth-chelated) arylnickel (IV) complex.”
Yeah. Whatever. Page after page of that crap.
Anyway, the mall starts falling apart, presumably due to a software bug in the Afterlife chip. Strange things happen. Miranda’s always after Nick to do “it” but Nick has other ideas — someone put the notion in his head that there’s a way to escape the mall, so he makes that his goal. But if you’re dead and now software, where are you going to escape to??? Anyway, prime example, page 149: Nick felt an incredible longing building within him. ‘Miranda, you are out of this world. But we are trying to find a way out of here. Stay focused.'” So, some nubile, young, sexy piece of software is offering it up to him for eternity and he can only think of escaping? Doesn’t seem very realistic to me. Meanwhile, there are spiders that communicate, fighting blowfish that float through the air and attack people, ways to ingest others into yourself, and so on and so forth. It seems to me that Dr. Pickover played Second Life a few too many nights and got himself addicted, because this book reads like the ramblings of a VR geek with no real life to live. I’m going to give this book two stars instead of one simply because it’s fairly original and the author does try — just not very well. I’d kind of like to know what happens at the end, but not badly enough to continue reading.