Thursday, May 01, 2008

Novel mixes sex, radical politics and nanotechnology


Author Emory Menefee, now approaching 80, lives with his wife Josephine in Richmond, California. Though he received a doctorate in physical chemistry from MIT, and has published dozens of research papers, "The Cultivation of Weeds" ($11.95 in paperback from ExPress, available at is his first novel. One of his children, longtime Chico resident Lisa Menefee Baker, wrote me about the book and noted that her parents were frequent Chico visitors.

A strange complacency came over me, probably because my orange juice was spiked with the drug misamine, and I agreed to do a review.

I'm kidding, actually, but such a chemical does play a significant role in this novel of the near future. Young Carl Grendil, social misfit, is drugged into the SOS, the super-secret "Soldiers of Sacrifice," a Division of Intelligence-sponsored "revolution in American soldiery" whose purpose "is to insinuate themselves closely enough to an undesirable opponent to introduce an armament of lethal and microscopic weapons." The miniature "neurobots" penetrate the victim, lodge in the brain, and produce a painful death seemingly from natural causes. Enemies of the US simply drop from the scene. The SOS operative is sworn to escape undetected or to commit suicide. Better this than a massive and unending war such as the US tried to fight in Iraq.

Carl's mother, Lyn, is strikingly beautiful and increasingly estranged from her husband Ed, a former physics professor made rich through his invention of the so-called "F-chip" which, implanted in computers sold to other countries, would undetectably "phone home" to US intelligence officials. Ed's partner in the development was the paranoid Robert Sikes, one of the founders of the SOS and its headquarters in a privately-owned "ring of mountains" in Northern California.

Ed is the likely presidential candidate of the popular "Reform Party," which called for "nearly all the government functions that had been privatized in recent years to be restored under a new kind of government control," namely the users of the services themselves. The entrenched powers in Washington called it "socialism." The current President of the US wants Sikes to use the SOS to eliminate Ed, and therein lies a tale of sex, violence, death, and the lesson Carl learns from weeds. Fun stuff. Would you like some orange juice?

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