The "Antibodies" Are Out There
When a federally-funded cancer research facility is fire-bombed by an animal-rights group, a hideously disease-ridden body is found in the wreckage. Two prominent cellular research scientists also die in the inferno. One of them, who had been working on the cutting edge of immunological technology, had a very personal stake - a son with leukemia. The other man, who experimented with injury-fighting nanoprobes developed at the facility, might actually not be quite dead yet...
Most of Antibodies concerns Mulder and Scully's attempts to protect the boy and his dog - both of whom may be carrying the secret to immortality via nanotechnology, which stimulates the immune system to repair cellular damage - from the scientist suffering from the effects of that technology and from shadowy government agents who will stop at nothing to possess it (including a Cigarette-Smoking Man with a suspicious cough). While Scully bonds with the orphaned child, Mulder searches for answers from the "dead" scientist, whose nanotech-infested body gives deadly cancers to anyone who touches him. There are some interesting medical miracles - near-instantaneous recovery from gunshot wounds and fatal illnesses - and the usual disappearing evidence at critical moments.
Like Jurassic Park, this novel takes advantage of the print medium to explain technology that might get tedious described on camera. The science sounds believable and easy to comprehend, so the biological mystery is very compelling. Still, X Files novels always make me appreciate the directing on the series. While Antibodies reads like a good, solid episode, with lots of action and suspense and vivid guest characters, it doesn't have the resonance of a really well-filmed television show.
Because there's not much time to introduce the characters on television, the directors rely on visual gimmicks to make them seem complex and sympathetic. In novels, though, audience empathy is dependent on well-drawn characters, which there's not much room for in an action story. Plus, it's harder in a novel to contrast the stark rural beauty of the country with the dark halls of corrupt power and the visceral ugliness of death. I liked the sections from Mulder's point of view better than those from Scully's - for once I'd like to see Mulder bond with a kid, while Scully delves into the conspiracy. This story would have made a perfect opportunity, since, as a medical doctor, she could have asked the infected scientist more probing questions about his condition than Mulder did.
Of course, such questions would have required a sophisticated understanding of the potential medical applications of nanotechnology, which I'm not sure author Anderson has. Much of Antibodies is reminiscent of the award-winning Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress; in that novel, the entire human race gets "cell cleaner" nanotechnology virtually identical to the prototypes developed in Antibodies. There are other similarities to Kress' famous trilogy - the survivalist relatives, the child and pet who become the test subjects - though there are also many familiar X Files themes.
I'm always hesitant to pay over $20 for a hardback X Files book, since by definition the novels aren't part of the compelling conspiracy arc which drives the series, but this one is easily as good as Anderson's previous bestsellers and will probably repeat their successes. There's not much character development in Antibodies, but neither are there any obvious flaws, and it's an engrossing read.
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