I was invited to review this novel a few weeks ago by Mr. Zimmerman’s publicist, and since I like reading as much as I like butter, here we go!
The Ovum Factor is Mr. Zimmerman’s first novel, which he introduces as an “eco-thriller”, inspired by his interest in the climate change debate. The protagonist David Rose is a young, handsome, wealthy investment banker/researcher-type person who finds himself dissatisfied with his life. He feels he is meant for some great purpose, but he’s only done what his family wanted him to do: studied hard, went to a fancy expensive school, got a high-flying finance job. All he wants now is to find personal fulfillment. Fortunately, the Voice Of Destiny begins to scream into his ear in the first chapter.
David is assigned by his bank to review the investment potential of a scientific project that aims to inject fetuses with a serum that will grant them superhuman intelligence. During his investigation, he meets a girl, is pursued by various unsavories, travels the Western Hemisphere, and develops a spine.
Zimmerman’s done a good job creating a sprawling plot and bringing it all together, and he does have a flair for the dramatic. The chapters are short and punchy, and typically end at the right moment to make you want to turn the page. The writing itself is sodden with cliches, however, and not in the good, campy way. Of the characters, only David comes across as a fully developed person; everyone else is just a prod or a foil for his actions. And even David seems to make decisions based solely on a wish for Fate Fulfilled, or “Why not?” reasoning. His penchant for doing what he is told by mysterious strangers and fortune cookies reveals him to be a certain sort of person, for sure, but a frustrating sort of person to identify with in a novel that purportedly tackles serious scientific challenges and moral issues.
Enough about the literary considerations, though. What makes Mr. Zimmerman’s work an “eco-thriller”, you ask?
Spoilers ahead, yo.
David’s boss is a part of a private, powerful organization of intellectuals called the Omega Sentinels, who project that the world will be destroyed in the next 100 years by the ravages of climate change. David’s boss also thinks that humans are so shortsighted, selfish, and unintelligent that they will never be able to come up with a solution to the climate crisis. A serum that will turn fetuses into creepy-smart babies and super-humanly intelligent adults is the human race’s only chance for survival. Ah, but of course.
Zimmerman offers a darkly pessimistic view of the state of the world, and a profoundly unsatisfying view of the way to fix it. Aside from the glaring ethical problems of injecting fetuses with completely new drugs then saddling them with the hope of the world when they pop out (Zimmerman does mention that these issues exist before he blithely dismisses them), the story gives no credit to concerned citizens, environmental activists, or any of the thousands of small and large solutions that people are working on every day to deal with climate change and to live more sustainably. Sure, by focusing on a fringe scientific effort and imminent doom, you can come up with a more thrilling book, but Mr. Zimmerman doesn’t give his most sympathetic audience enough credit. His outlook alienates the readers that are concerned about climate change and dealing with the problem themselves, and reinforces the belief in climate skeptics or deniers that the environmental problem is too huge to be solved by real people anyway, so why bother? I’ll drive my SUV down the block to get me some of that baby serum, and we’ll be cool.
I know that “inspiration for enlightened and helpful discourse” is not the only goal of a novel, especially a thriller. I’m sure plenty of people who read The Da Vinci Code weren’t looking for a debate on the “Role of Women in Christianity” or “Historical Narratives of the Catholic Church”. So I can’t fault Mr. Zimmerman for choosing the particular story particulars he did, any further than he meant this as an op-ed. And it’s a lot more thriller than op-ed.
The publicist graciously offered to relay any questions I had to Mr. Zimmerman, so here’s the exchange:
Q: In the book, the point of view of the Omega Sentinels is that humanity is doomed by climate change, and incapable of saving itself without drastic scientific intervention. Is that [your] point of view as well? If it’s not, how [do you] think that we can fix this climate problem?
A: My point of view on whether humanity will survive climate change? That’s a hard one. Obviously, I’m pessimistic since I envisaged a scenario where dramatic measures must be taken to avert calamity.
My own hope is that we still have time to correct everything that has contributed to this problem. But the clock is running down and we have to act decisively and immediately. The reason I wrote The Ovum Factor and continue to write novels on this theme is because I feel people have to be sensitized to the scale of the threat. Only then will they adjust their lifestyles and stop contributing further to it
At the same time, I’m a great believer in human resilience and will. Once we find the will to act, I’m hopeful that we’ll find the solutions.
I’m not sure his book will have the galvanizing impact that he intends, simply because the solution he poses is so extreme, but I admire him for trying. It’s not easy putting your thoughts out there to get kicked around, so more power to him. I hope he keeps at it.