|Paint Rock River Press, 256 pages|
|A review by Georges T. Dodds|
Recent use of injected fœtal islet and testicular Sertoli cells from pigs into teenage children to, in some cases "cure" juvenile diabetes has been big news lately (1). However, there is some concern that disease organisms may be passed on in this manner, to become active in humans and then to rapidly spread, causing an HIV-like epidemic. Viruses that have been transmitted to humans from other species in the past include: Simian virus 40 (associated with non-Hodgkins lymphoma) in contaminated polio vaccines (2), and HIV from chimpanzees or through a different polio vaccine (3). The Campaign for Responsible Transplantation (CRT) has petitioned the US FDA to have xenotransplantation banned and is now suing the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for alledgedly withholding information on clinical trials. The main risk in terms of pig tissue transplants comes from porcine endogenous retroviruses, or PERVs, viruses which have been shown to jump across to cultured human cells (4), but which, when found in transplant recipients, have apparently not become active, at least not yet (5), (6). The full risks and problems with xenotransplantation, as perceived by the CRT are listed here. On the other side of the coin, The Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research of the FDA, has published a number of "Guidance for Industry" documents, outlining concerns and proposing guidelines to minimize any such risk (7), (8), (9), (9).
Suffice it to say that xenotransplants are potentially a multi-billion dollar industry, which have the scientific community quite divided as to whether the potential benefits outweigh the risks.
So all this would seem to make pigs cloned for xenobiotics a hot topic. What do such creatures have to do with Lynne Carver's Dreaming Pigs? In the end, very little. A cloned pig's heart is used in a transplant operation, but the young girl recipient does not survive, suffering heart failure -- and thus largely eliminating the consequences of any pathogen transfer, and any controversy that might drive the the story's plot. Of course, later in the book another controversy, this one exceedingly far-fetched replaces it. The heart recipient's grandfather is devastated, blaming the surgeon, Dr. Goules, for her death -- can you tell from the name if she's good or bad? why not just call her Dr. Mengele? Dr. Goules isn't castigated because she mishandled the operation, and no mention is actually made of why the girl suffered massive heart failure (though this is a common symptom of immediate rejection). Her sole blame is that she was tinkering with transgenics and raising for parts cute little piggies, whose enhanced intelligence, one might even say personality or soul, renders them immune to becoming bacon or spare parts on humanitarian and moral grounds. There follows a discussion of all the potential risks of pig tissue transplants, but none of the tangible benefits -- though thankfully the topic doesn't come up again.
The bulk of the novel then goes off into the lives of the grandfather, and a man and woman who become involved because they know people who have been killed because they knew of the intelligence and capacity for speech of the cloned pigs. So they all go off on a cross-country road trip, complete with a kidnapped "super-pig," and various FBI agents and Dr. Goules minions in tow. So where does this pig intelligence come from, the author doesn't really say. One assumes the author might believe that cloning pigs, in a manner such that their tissues are not rejected by humans, involves the transfer of massive amounts of human genome and presumably intelligence to the pigs. However, in practice, it is generally a question of exchanging a single pig gene for a single human one, such that the exposed polysaccharides of cellular membrane glycoproteins, one of the primary targets for immunological response, read "human" instead of "pig." While such genetically modified pigs may develop other problems, speaking in tongues is not likely to be one. But let's just suspend disbelief for a moment and assume that the special pigs have developed a rudiment of communication skills, what is it such pigs might wish to communicate to humans, what pig thoughts are at the forefront of their minds waiting for an outlet?... these pigs unfortunately remain very closed mouthed, and what could have been an interesting tool for commenting on human society, as was used by Kristen Bakis in her Lives of the Monster Dogs remains unexploited.
The chase to recover the kidnapped pig, while superficially entertaining and suspenseful, suffers from the "good guys are angelically good and use brilliant evasive tactics" and "bad guys are violent amoral psychopaths and dumb as a post" cliché. The authorities know from early on where the trio are headed, and cannot manage to intercept them on the way, though they travel in daytime on open roads, cannot catch them when they openly make contact with the grandfather's brother in New Orleans -- in a bar which the authorities know the brother owns, only managing to arrest the trio when they all walk in to the funeral parlour for the little girl's funeral. The romantic aspects between the disfigured Dean Malloy (I was hoping they'd use pig cartilage to rebuild his face, but alas not) and Evelyn Turner a perky graphics designer, are done fairly well, as is the grandfather's grief.
For some good pig stories, either rent Babe, or pick up one of the Freddy the Pig books. Dreaming Pigs is facetiously touted as "The best novel about cloned pigs ever!" and given that I can't think of any other novel about cloned pigs, it is equally the worst. If you're anything like me, when it comes to Dreaming Pigs, you won't need you immune system to tell you to reject it.
Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has
read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both
in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP,
the newsletter/fanzine of the
Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association
and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.
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