Book Review: Lucy by Laurence Gonzales

Title: Lucy
Author: Laurence Gonzales
Publisher: Knopf, Random House
Genre: Science Fiction, Literary Fiction, Futuristic
ISBN: 978-0307272607
PP: 320 pages
Price: $24.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

In Lucy by Laurence Gonzales the author taps into a common fear expressed about the potential for research in the area of genomics– what if someone manages to breed a human with an ape, what would be the result? There is lots of speculation that such interbeeding is possible, all of it accompanied by disclaimers along the line of “but of course nobody would do that.” Well in this book someone did, a scientist whose goal was not research but to bring about a new race of hominids and help save humanity.

Gonzales maintains the focus of his book on Lucy, the extraordinary child who results from her scientist father’s research and on Jenny, the anthropologist who rescues her from the Congo after her father is killed by Congolese insurgents. While reading the first part of the book my main reaction was disappointment– I found it not to be particularly well written and there were numerous info dumps. The revelation that Lucy was half bonobo ape came much too quickly. However, I think Gonzales just wanted to get all of that background out of the way so he could focus on what happens to Lucy as she tries to assimilate in society. Once Lucy gets settled in Chicago and starts going to school, the book becomes much more interesting, and I had a hard time putting it down. I found his descriptions of Lucy trying to adjust to life in the hectic world of the United States after growing up in isolation in the African jungle very insightful, particularly her reaction to her first visit to a shopping center.

When a medical emergency results in the realization that Lucy’s secret will be exposed, Lucy, Jenny and Lucy’s best friend, Amanda, take the bull by the horns and announce Lucy’s heritage to the world on YouTube. Gonzales avoids addressing the larger issue of whether such research should be conducted and keeps his focus narrowly on Lucy– in her case the research has been done, she is here, and how should we deal with her? Some might criticize Gonzales for bypassing the larger issues, however by focusing on Lucy, and dealing with the moral issues peripherally, Gonzales manages to bring home some of the major issues involved in primate research. When Lucy is captured and is subjected to a craniotomy for research purposes, we realize what a very narrow line separates humans from the apes on whom such research is routinely conducted. By making Lucy subject to religious attacks by those who think she is an abomination, Gonzales manages to highlight some of the dangers involved in a theocratic society.

I didn’t want to stop reading this book. Life is busy, but I just wanted to keep reading (and it’s an easy, fast read, if you have the time). While not perfect (dialogue, other issues), I very highly recommend this book. The blurb says it’s written in the tradition of Mary Shelley and Michael Crichton. True, but in a thoroughly modern-fiction way. Those who enjoy reading about situations that pose ethical dilemmas may well find this book stimulating. I found it to be a melding of sci-fi, contemporary literary fic, and teen fic, with societal implications. This book did what that book promised much more successfully. Additionally, I felt that this book wasn’t as formulaic as it might have been, which scored points with me.

“Lucy” is one of those novels that rises above it’s imperfections to provide grist for those who love to examine society, unusual situations, and the “what if’s” that come along in our lives now and then, as the best fiction/science fiction can do. I think this book can help readers ponder the human “condition,” that which makes us human, the bigger universe and connection with life forms different from our own, and opens our eyes to changes in our world and the various ways they can be greeted. Again, this book isn’t perfect, but I’d say it was way worth the time and worth the trip.

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