by Jeff Carlson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am an armchair paleoanthropologist, so any novel that even hints at early man gets my attention. What a rich time in human history, when nature ruled and man–without the ferocious mammalian tools of claws, ripping teeth, and thick skin–survived thanks only to that most ethereal of body parts: the brain. Man’s ability to problem solve–create tools, plan ahead, devise an effective hunt–meant the difference between life and death. I so love watching people invent solutions to problems they have never before faced.
When Jeff Carlson’s latest book Interrupt (47North 2013) showed up, I grabbed it and wasn’t disappointed. It is a perfect mix of science, mystery, and non-stop action, not to mention a fresh plot on a timely topic. In a nutshell: The US is simultaneously zapped with electro-magnetic pulses from the sun and a Chinese attack. With all electrical equipment and defenses knocked out, the country struggles to protect its people from the deadly effects from the Sun as well as defend our shores from a probable Chinese attack. What no one expected was that the Sun’s electromagnetic radiation would also short-circuits parts of the brain causing anyone exposed to it to revert either to the mental state of an early Homo sapien–more like Homo habilis in brain functions, lacking creativity and higher-level thinking skills–or for about one in ten, a Neanderthal with fundamental hindbrain instincts that required each individual put life and procreation of the tribe above all else. Once again, as so often in man’s evolutionary history, civilization’s survival depended upon the mind’s ability to solve unimaginable problems.
Sound far fetched? Yes, but not as ‘science fiction’ as you might think when you consider that mtDNA (the other DNA every person carries inside their cells, inherited from mothers) links us to ancestors as far back as 100,000 years ago. Neanderthals lived as late as 25,000 years BCE. It stands to reason that, given the right set of circumstances, those traits could be activated.
There are some beautiful scenes in the book, too, of the world as it might be without the noise and clutter of a ‘civilized society':
“He felt hunger. He tasted blood and roots. Friends were constantly around him, and danger, and with each step he walked a balance between those two states–sometimes safe, sometimes at risk. Sometimes he increased the risk to himself in order to protect his companions, but never was there a deliberate thought. He did not consider his choices. He acted.”
Perfect. This is an original book that you’ll need to set an evening aside–or a cross-country plane ride. You won’t want to stop reading.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blogger, Technology in Education featured blogger, and IMS tech expert. She is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-6 Digital Citizenship curriculum, creator of technology training books for middle school and ebooks on technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.