Thursday, March 12, 2009

Review - Convergence by Christopher Turner

Synopsis from author's website:

Convergence combines career advice with commercial fiction in a novel about 4 young scientists striving for academic success. Each journey takes many twists and turns as these researchers make significant discoveries, under impossible conditions, while dealing with unscrupulous colleagues. To keep their careers alive, however, they are in the end forced to consider something that would normally be unthinkable. What directions each of them end up taking may not only define their character but ultimately determine their destiny.

My thoughts:

Boy, this is a hard book to review, for quite a lot of reasons. First, I have to say, Christopher Turner is obviously a brilliant man. He says on his website that he has gone to great lengths to make the science easy for a lay person to understand - I agree he has simplified many of the processes that go into scientific research. I, for one, found those aspects of the novel fascinating. I spent a lot of time in college in science labs, and it brought back a whole bunch of memories. But I know - I KNOW - that many of my friends and family, who are highly intelligent, would have a hard time through much of those sections. It is not easy to simplify neuroscience, and I think that fact will probably limit the audience this book will appeal to.

Also, this book is self-published, and hasn't had the benefit of professional editing. That shows in grammar and punctuation errors, as well as sheer length - over 1000 pages in ebook format. I think, as is the case with a lot of self-published work, the novel could just use a little streamlining in areas.

As for the meat of the novel, it is a unique, engrossing story of 4 young researchers trying to make their way in the cutthroat, dangerous world of biomedical research. Each of the main protagonists are smart and sympathetic, and each is placed in an untenable position. Turner also includes an unnamed Narrator, as the storyteller, and a Reporter, as the "storytell-ee", to connect the intertwining tales together. I spent a lot of the novel thinking of my own friend, Christine, who does cancer research at a university here in Iowa, and hoping her life wasn't as horrible as these girls.

On the book's website, Turner says his book is intended to be read as a novel by the mainstream reader, but also lays out four goals beyond simple reading for pleasure:

- raise awareness of the struggles of career scientists
- raise the level of debate about the true meaning of career support and development
- distinguish between fast-track, slow-track, and no-track careers
- provide a platform for many questions to be raised (and addressed) regarding career advancement in academia

I can't speak for the second goal, but I feel the other three are certainly met in this book. I would say it would certainly be of great interest to someone considering a career in research. I think the problem the book will have is that it will continue to be too scientifically technical to ever appeal to a broad audience. However, the group of people who can understand and relate to the people and ideas it presents will find it an interesting and entertaining read.

Here is the Convergence website for anyone interested in finding out more.

Finished: 3/10/09
Source: ebook from author
Rating: 6.5/10

Challenges: New Authors challenge

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