Goodreads Review: The Unborn


The UnbornThe Unborn by David Shobin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It’s very difficult to take this book seriously. Perhaps it’s just more a product of its time than I can stomach, or perhaps my own familiarity with computers and what they can (and can’t) realistically do – let alone what they could do 30+ years ago – renders me unable to stretch my belief far enough to find something of value here. Whatever the reason, I found myself shrieking at this book, throwing my hands in the air and saying “Oh, jeez, that is so stupid!” almost constantly.

The premise: Samantha discovers she’s pregnant; the father doesn’t want anything to do with it. Being a modern (for the early 80s, anyway) empowered woman, Sam vetoes abortion right off (after a bit of politically correct babble about respecting the right to choose) and determines she’s still a bit short to meet expenses if she wants to keep the child. Seeking alternate income, she ends up in a sleep study group, purportedly testing a new sleeping pill; upon the doctor discovering her pregnancy, the focus shifts to seeing if fetuses dream (oh, and she starts dating the doctor, too, since he’s so young and caring and interesting. Blech.) Of course, the medical complex where the experiments are being conducted has a supercomputer (called MEDIC, tee hee) that starts to “dream” itself, and it’s eventually discovered that during the experiments the computer is “talking” to the fetus. Chaos ensues.

Alright, so maybe I made fun of it a little much in the synopsis, but honestly it felt entirely too contrived. The romance angle felt forced – Doctor Bryson goes on at length how sex was just a physical release and his true love is his research, then proceeds to tell us every chance he gets about how it’s totally different with Samantha, and the whole “Dating your patient, who also ends up being your employee, who falsified records to participate in your study, who is pregnant with another man’s baby that you guys hardly ever talk about” was crossing so many lines and flying counter to every bit of logic one could apply that it became just stupid. The characters were all very basic tropes and felt like cardboard cut outs – pretty, intelligent, strong woman in trouble(TM); motherly, understanding type who’s playing matchmaker and faithful sidekick, and so on. Three quarters of the characters have apparently never heard of an ethics committee or are capable of thinking past their own cubicles.

And then there’s the computer. Keep in mind this is the early 80s. MEDIC is the room-sized, runs off tapes and reel-to-reel recorders for it’s data input and storage, prints things out via typewriter (and receives most of it’s input the same way). Yet somehow it can store the complete medical knowledge of mankind, cross reference all of it in seconds and perform “free associative thinking” tasks without a hiccup. Uh. No. Mind you, I’m not adverse to science fiction, but this felt like the author was merely pulling things out of his butt and shoving them together, without any logic applied. Oh, did I mention it responds to – and responds with – direct english commands with a minimum of “computer-ese”? Yeah. You can ask it, for example “Describe last analysis of patient Samantha Kirsten and likely results of death.” And the computer comes back with “1.5 Hours – Liver failure, renal failure, hypertension, cardiac arrest likely.” *facepalm* Oh, and does it in about 5 seconds. Without anyone having to thread a different reel of tape (this is before hard drives and gigabytes of RAM, mind you; we’d just gotten past the punch card stage.) despite it being several days later on a system that is purportedly running 24/7. Not buying it.

This computer also somehow taps into the EEG nodes that our doctor put on Sam’s belly to monitor her fetus, and not only records/references this data, but somehow begins beaming everything it knows into the little amphibian’s head. Bet you didn’t know those little nodules could do that, did ya? Oh, and then the fetus – and mind you, I really hate typing that word over and over again, but it’s how the book refers to it, so… – figures out how to excrete hormones and neurotransmitters at will, using its supreme medical knowledge in conjunction with this technique to essentially mind control mommy into doing fun things like forcing Bryson to ejaculate into her repeatedly (because his semen contains a hormone that promotes fetal growth, makes labor easier, and is a primary component in its mind-control scheme) and eat raw fish eyes (because they’re oh so good for baby, apparently). Yeah. There never seems to be much point in this – the computer supposedly can’t “think” in terms of this being an ultimate plan, and no motive/reasoning/higher cognitive function is ever ascribed to the fetus – so I guess this all falls under the “just because” header.

The book has the appropriately predictable “dun dun dun!” ending, though it still doesn’t make any sense – I’m really wondering how a kid sitting in a cradle is going to access his computer “mentor,” or even what the point of it would be – unless it also developed psychic powers or something, and it’s left very vague, as though it was tacked on merely because that was the custom of the country, to have that last “scare.” Add in that government agents appear, sweep everything under the rug – including the murder, the attempted murder, the break in, and all the data Bryson had collected “proving” something was up – and tell mommy a fairy tale that she believes since she conveniently has amnesia as a residual effect from stress, flatlining during the labor (because the baby tried to kill her during birth) and the fetus mind-control of her, and it leaves you with an entirely too tidy and predictable ending.

So why two stars? Why not the 0 or 1 this would appear to deserve from my tearing apart the entirety of its insipid plot? Mainly the writing itself. When the author isn’t discussing the state of Samantha’s breasts – which happens way too often – he does a good job of keeping the language flowing, and the imagery he manages to conjure is suitably disturbing when taken out of context. It’s just when you try to put it into the whole that it becomes problematic. The scene with the fish eyes is duly repulsive, and when Bryson suffers a bit of… performance anxiety, Samantha’s response and the way it’s written is suitably disturbing. Moments like that pepper the script, and when the characters aren’t making goo-goo eyes at one another or otherwise behaving like bloody idiots, the dialogue is amusing and well-written.

Honestly, though, I’d steer clear. A lot of people can use language well, and several of them can tell an interesting, coherent and intelligent story while they do it. Just not worth the time, in this reader’s humble opinion.

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