Audiobook Review: Prototype by Brian Hodge

21 02 2013

Prototype by Brian Hodge

Read by John Lee

Crossroad Press

Length: 12 Hrs 6 Min

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction

Quick Thought: If you are looking for a fast paced psychological thriller with twists and turns, and easily defined characters, then Prototype probably won’t fit your bill. But, if you’re open to an exploration of the very nature of humanity, told with a science fiction tint, and full of moments of dark poetry than Hodge’s unique tale of a man plagued by his own genetics may enthrall you as much as it did me.

Grade: B

I have always been fascinated by the nature versus nurture debate. Is our future shaped by our genetic code? Is there some sort or instinctual archetypal genetic memory that guides us? Or, are we simply a product of out training and experiences? Are our actions a result of science or memory? This debate has raged for years, and while it always is interesting, it also frustrates me. The easy answer has always been that it’s a combination of both. Yet, that has never been enough for me. I have always felt that the basic problem with this argument is that it’s missing a key factor, another element that isn’t quite nature or nurture. I have trouble believing that human sentience arose simply as an evolutionary process. Now, of course, we come to the essence of the very question of what makes us human, more than our nature, and more than our nurture. Because, I feel there is something more. This very belief in something beyond our genetics and our upbringing is an essential aspect of religion. It’s easy when we can’t get the pieces to fit together right, to sedge God into the picture to fill it out, yet despite this being an easy solution, I’m not sure if it’s entirely wrong. There is something that gives us morality, the ability to go against our nature, and defy our experiences and act in a way that goes beyond both things, for good or for ill. I call it God, because I can’t think of a better word. God, not in a Judeo Christian sense, or even something spiritual in nature. God, as in a power beyond us, past our understanding, that has an influence on us, making as just a bit more than the sum of out parts. For many, this is an easy answer, and for others, I probably haven’t gone far enough, but I have trouble seeing humanity as simply animals that have evolved a sentience, or the children of an Almighty Being who we serve the whims of but there’s something, I just really don’t know what it is.

Clay Palmer has never quite fit into society, never felt quite right, a feeling that manifest itself into moments of uncontrollable rage and self harm. His latest incident has lead him to psychologist Adrienne Rand, who discovers that Clay has an extremely rare genetic mutation. As Adrienne attempts to find out just what this means for Clay, there is another person out there who shares Clay’s condition, and he want Clay for himself. I’m not exactly sure what to make of Prototype. I had expected a horror novel, based on past experiences with Brian Hodge. Yet, what I got was something else. Sure, it had it’s moments of horror, but, not in a traditional sort of way. If anything, Prototype is a darkly tragic soft science fiction tale which, instead of physics or technology as its scientific base, pulls from the softer sciences like psychology, sociology and anthropology, while utilizing genetics and biology as well. It’s a thriller where the thrills come more from the deep levels of introspection and exposition than from car chases and gun fights. Where science fiction journeys to the deep corners of Space, Prototype takes us on a journey through our genetic code, and psychology. Not to say there isn’t a real story. There is, but it is almost serves as more of a vehicle to deliver the concepts and philosophies than to tell a good tale. I have to admit, at first I had trouble getting into Prototype, but then I became enthralled. Hodge’s moody exploration of the dark side of humanity was unlike anything I had ever read before. He expands his tale to give an anthropological look at a unique subculture, and then manages to pull it all together, using the seemingly disparaging subplots to shine a light on the overall theme of the novel. I really have a hard time giving this a simple recommendation.  Did I enjoy Prototype? Absolutely. But, I enjoyed it for reasons that I wasn’t expecting, and that I usually reserve for non-fiction and not a novel. If you are looking for a fast paced psychological thriller with twists and turns, and easily defined characters, then Prototype probably won’t fit your bill. But, if you’re open to an exploration of the very nature of humanity, told with a science fiction tint, and full of moments of dark poetry than Hodge’s unique tale of a man plagued by his own genetics may enthrall you as much as it did me. Prototype is a novel that will stick with you for a long time.

I’m not exactly sure why John Lee was cast to narrate this book. John Lee is one of the top British narrators today, yet, this tale was set within the United States, and all the characters where American. I think that it says a lot about a narrator when they are cast for an audiobook that they probably aren’t quite right for yet still manage to pull off an amazing performance. While his American accents and characterizations were serviceable, it was Lee’s ability to capture the dark poetry of this novel that made it stand out. Prototype is full of inner dialogue and large sections of exposition and extrapolation, and John Lee’s rhythmic reading of these sections brought it alive for me. Lee managed to make the science of the book into its own character. I think Prototype probably wasn’t an easy novel to transform into audio. Listeners like a hook, or a quick payoff, and there isn’t much of that in Prototype. There is dryness to the opening moments of this audiobook that may make those looking for instant gratification to move on to something faster paced. Yet, I think seasoned audiobook fans will appreciate the excellent work that John Lee does here.

Note: I received this Audiobook for review as part of Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer Program.

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