The Ancient DNA by John Lambrakis (ed.)

The Ancient DNA by John Lambrakis (ed.)Combining genetic-engineering with dreams and prophecy, this novel sets out to unify science, Greek mythology, and the legends of Atlantis.

Note: Lambrakis is listed as editor not author in the metadata of the edition I read, and no author is provided. The edition also lacks a foreword setting out where Lambrakis obtained the manuscript or whether it is, as some facets of the text suggest, originally a Greek text translated into English. Absent any firm evidence to the contrary this review will take the text and Lambrakis’ title of editor at face value.

Dorian Pericles, a respected but junior geneticist, discovers a dusty set of lab notes while clearing out an old shelf. Intrigued by mention of an apparently successful series of radical cross-species hybridisations, he decides to replicate the first experiment in secret. Successfully creating a rose-bush that glows in the dark, he delves deeper. But the second experiment has much less benign consequences.

The basic ideas of this novel, while not necessarily utterly consistent with current scientific understanding, are close enough for the lay person. The potential implausibility might even better support a plot based on the union of science and ancient myth than hard sci-fi descriptions.

This merging of fact with emotional resonance is especially evident in the descriptions of Pericles initial experiments, giving the reader a solid image of how fulfilling scientific discovery can be.

However, the ideas are let down, and to some extent even hidden, by frequent technical issues with the text: words are often replaced with others of similar sound or spelling; tenses change unexpectedly within paragraphs, or even sentences, leading to causes apparently following effects and future possibilities appearing to be past events; inconsistent punctuation; pronoun confusion.

Even more severe are the intermittent absence of scene breaks. Both changes in time and point of view occur without warning. Combined with the extensive use of unclear pronouns and odd tense shifts, this often results in the reader discovering the last several paragraphs were the start of a new scene.

The same dichotomy occurs in the characterisation and world-building. There are moments of skilled description, but the overall picture is lost in confused speech attribution and unmarked time or view shifts.

Ironically this makes the minor characters and events seem the most realistic; unburdened by the need to fit them into an ill-defined shape, the reader can accept the declarative statements at face value.

The book contains five footnotes, each of one or two sentences. Only one of these, the note on the three traditional ancient Greek civilisations, explains a term of art the author uses; the others give basic geographical data on modern Greek locations. With so many historical characters and mythic links referenced without explanation, the reader might be left with the feeling Lamarkis has missed an opportunity.

Overall, I found this novel slightly disappointing. I strongly suggest potential readers do not purchase this book without reading a free sample first.

I received a free copy of this book with no obligation to review.

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