If you’d like to write a creepily exciting medical thriller set in the near future, you could do worse than Michael C. Grumley did in his new medical/techno-thriller, Deep Freeze. Like him, you might want to consider the consequences of the hubristic quest for immortality. Who would want such a thing? What massive ego is required to even contemplate it? And, at a technical level, how could science make it possible?
Lifespan extension is a hot topic today that extends beyond the laboratory into policymaking or even, you might say, philosophy. The conceptual seeds for a changed mindset about the inevitability of aging have already been planted. An effort is afoot to have aging declared a disease—a Pandora’s box for sure—which will legitimate medical research aimed at making aging “curable,” even reversible.
The bedrock requirement of medical and science-based thrillers is the believability of the underlying science. It may not be technically correct, and if it involves the future, it may never come to pass. Yet, the science must carry authority, with enough detail to be persuasive, but without turning into a textbook. Michael Crichton was a master at this; Neal Stephenson is too. It’s clear Grumley has done his research. He brings together several advances in medical science that might address some of the inherent challenges of enhanced longevity. Yet I wasn’t able to totally suspend disbelief, in part because his characters didn’t think like the many doctors and researchers I’ve worked with.
In an isolated research center in the Arizona desert some twenty years in the future, Grumley writes, medical scientists are working on a one-of-a-kind technology. You very soon get an inkling that everything in the running of the lab is not on the up-and-up. The sophisticated machine that Rachel Souza (a vascular physician) and her friend, technician Henry Yamada, are testing is designed to warm a frozen body (think cryogenics) very slowly. The machine has worked on animals, and the story begins with the first human test, an attempt to thaw the frozen body of former US Army Special Forces veteran John Reiff. Clearly, the stakes are high.
And they are successful. As Reiff gradually regains both physical and mental capacity, he senses Rachel and Henry aren’t completely honest about where he is and what the project is all about. But those uneasy feelings are nothing compared to the shock of learning he’s been kept in a frozen state by someone, somewhere, for twenty-two years. From the point he becomes aware of what’s happened to him, the story becomes a frantic scramble for Rachel, Henry, and Reiff’s survival (ironic, given the book’s overall theme). It becomes much like a conventional cat-and-mouse thriller.
Determinedly, almost naively, optimistic, Rachel takes much too long to recognize that all isn’t as it should be in the lab. Blinders on, she wasn’t convincing. Nor did I believe in the story’s villains—they were cardboard-cutout-evil.
Grumley maneuvers around the project’s ethical issues by eventually describing how, during the period Reiff was frozen, the world economy, governments, and social systems totally imploded. Traditional norms were abandoned. That’s such a major piece of context, it would have helped to have it much sooner—and in convincing detail. It also explains the odd anti-government allusions that occur earlier in the story. Several major pieces of the story are left hanging and will probably be the subject of subsequent books in this series (this is Book 1).
This medical thriller has a strong opening and includes several quite likeable and interesting characters. It provides a lot to think about, too, at multiple levels. You can’t quite hear about certain new medical advances without recalling it.