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RohinGupta

Kira Peikoff's "No Time To Die"

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INTRODUCTION


At a time when Freedom is the most discussed subject, and yet least understood. At a time when the need for medical advances is most urgent, and yet the field is most strangled. And at a time when relationships are most fragile, there could not have been a better read. What follows is my review of No Time To Die by Kira Peikoff.


THEME


What Freedom is, and what it is not? What are the consequences of having and not having freedom? And what are the prerequisites of Freedom?


PLOT-THEME


Coercive regulations, too much government interference, sensation and propaganda driven mainstream media. How these cultural products slow down and stop progress in medical science? Alternatively, system where researchers, patients, venture capitalists, and their facilitators voluntarily trade. How such system leads to astonishing progress in medical science? Further, it also shows how reason can be used to overcome misunderstanding, or reach certainty in human relationships if people have an overall positive view of themselves and of other men.


CHARACTERS


1. Galileo : Very efficient in managing network that works in medical innovations. Network's recruitments and secrecy are pursued very skilfully by him. He is also very understanding and caring of people he values, and acts to help them whenever he thinks its required. He has a troubled past where he has lost his loved ones, and as a result he is conflicted and cautious in his present relationships, especially Romantic.

Purposeful action to achieve his long term, medium term, and short term goals being the defining feature of his character.


2. Natalie : Hard working, exceptionally intelligent, and very dedicated to her professional course. Very caring of her son, and of people like Zoe, Galileo, Helen, and others she gets to know and appreciate. Empathy also reflected towards small associations like her professional colleagues, and people she occasionally interacts with.

Defining characteristic being her courage to take risks after thinking about pros and cons in relation to her values, that is her work and her son.


3. Les Mahler : A bureaucrat convinced that genetic science will destroy the world, if not controlled by government. This idea leading him to vigorously pursue the network and its leader, and also contemplate killing an innocent child because of her genes. Willing to bend rules when official processes don't yield desired results, and use coercive threats and occasional bribery to get the work done by illegal means. As we later come to see, he has destructive agenda of his own, and will go to any lengths to destroy the things he does not like. At a deeper level we see that he is unwilling to take responsibility for his failures, and rationalizes his failed actions to blame someone else, mostly research scientists. And at deepest level, the hatred and paranoia comes from his inability to get over the bad childhood memories, bullies in particular.

Defining feature being his agenda to control scientific research in general, and Galileo's network in particular. Rationalization coming from the belief that he is saving earth's resources from overpopulation, virus called man etc.


4. Zoe : A girl affected by extremely rare genetic mutation, that makes her the target of medical science and political community. A passionate valuer when it comes to caring for her maternal grandfather, or for her own condition. Willing to go to any extent to fix the wrongs they are in. Develops inferiority complex because of the condition her body is in. Is naive in her initial understanding, but willing to learn about her condition in depth, about adolescence in general, genetic science, and the politics and ethics surrounding it.

Defining characteristic being her free spirit. Upholding independence of thought, values, and acting even in the face of extreme peril.


5. Granpa – Zoe's maternal grandfather : A very caring person when it comes to handling Zoe emotionally, her actions, and her relationship with parents. Has had very successful careers as athlete and physician. Has read good collection, and applies those learnings along with his experience to help Zoe. His understanding of Zoe's condition, and his willingness to help her in pursuit he thinks is right, being the defining characteristic.


6. Stephen Kincaid – Zoe's father : He comes out as very dominating figure, pushing his own flawed agenda onto his daughter. When things go out of control, and he later loses her, looks like he has realized his mistake.


7. Zoe's mother : She comes out as very noncommittal person, who does not seem to have any deep values. So ends up supporting whatever her husband says, and reacts with shallow emotions when things go wrong.


8. Theo : Son of Natalie whom she loves immensely. Very mature in handling relationships, whether its false news report related to Natalie, or handling tough situations while escaping to Network, or handling Zoe when she develops inner conflict within the campus. He has passion for computers and technology in general.

His deep understanding of relationships, and about growing up in general being the defining characteristic.


9. Julian : Physically weak but quite clever. Tactfully handles when questioned by Les and others about his links to the network.


PLOT



The tight plot full of twists and turns is the strongest aspect of the novel. Galileo and Zoe most times, and Natalie and Les sometimes being the movers of the plot. While the actions of Galileo move in the background, the actions of Zoe and Natalie are most visible in the initial part of the novel. Zoe motivated by the desire to discover and improve her condition, and to contribute to research that can help medical condition of Granpa. Natalie's passion to develop anti-aging techniques so that she can push ahead medical science, and also raising her son well, being the motivations that drive her and the plot. Like John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, Galileo comes into forefront of plot movement as the story progresses. Whether its deft handling of escape to the Network compound, arranging resources for driving research in the network, collecting and applying timely intelligence to secure secrecy of Network, or clarifying Zoe's insecurities. In each of the key moments he emerges as the man of clear thinking, quick and accurate decision making. A man of action, actions that are thought through. While Galileo most times is the prime mover, villain Les Mahler is also the mover. Whether its probing the moles of the Network in Columbia University, trying to track Natalie and kids when they escape, or later investigating the location of Network compound. Being a villain while he is dominantly irrational and brutal, there are elements of cleverness that drive the plot, particularly his blackmailing and occasional incentivizing of a hacker on parole.


STYLE


Content of the novel primarily belongs to Biotechnology in particular, and medicine in general. Explaining the technical terms and very specific processes of these lesser known fields I think is a major challenge. Use of metaphors like searching lighted weed in an ocean for finding master gene, or chromosomes and genes being like chapters and words of a book are the few examples where complex concepts are explained. Often Zoe is used as an archetype for normal reader being explained to. Also, from time to time Kira makes it a point to reveal motivations of characters for their actions. Whether its value driven actions of positive characters, or rationalization and fear driven actions of negative ones. Occasional impulses of positive characters like Zoe escaping the compound also have valid reasoning. So simplifying technical complexities, and providing motivations along with specific actions of characters forms the core of style elements in novel.


SENSIBILITIES


So far I have reviewed the major elements of this fiction work – theme, plot theme, characters, plot, and style. Going a step further I would now discuss the writer's “Sense of Life”. That is, what aspects of life and man she considers important.


Clearly there is lots of optimism for what science and technology can do, and validly so. Then there is appreciation of how reason can lead to understanding in human relationships, provided there is benevolent view of man, life and existence on both sides.


To elaborate on the finer aspects I would compare sensibilities to those in We The Living by Ayn Rand. Compared to We The Living, the hero is clearly much more stronger, almost approaching John Galt of Atlas Shrugged in his thoughts and actions. There is however a minor let down when it comes to heroine's view of Hero. Overall no doubt she revers his intelligence, his actions, and his style derived from these. But that makes conversation in “Chapter 21” even more painful. After cops leave Julian's house leave, Theo makes a really cheap joke. Sometime later Natalie lightly accuses Galileo of not laughing. Given the situation, I think the joke and remark could have been avoided. But at a deeper level, it seems that Kira Peikoff does not yet has a fully integrated view of Hero, especially the single minded persistence needed in the face of mortal danger. So in that sense, attitude of character Kira from We The Living towards Leo was much more reverential and consistent. From the theme perspective, the level of No Time to Die is political like We The Living. Impact of “Totalitarian State” on lives being the theme of latter. In No Time to Die however, the foundations of freedom in reason are explored to a much greater extent. Like the explanation of Galileo as to how Humans can adapt to progress like anti-aging technologies. In We The Living, while ethics of self-interest finds form in various actions, given the dark setup, scope for what reason means is limited. Further, the altruistic and irrational foundations of Les Mahler's coercive and violent actions is also explored in sufficient detail.


Another aspect I would like to explore is the view of evil, especially the fuel that drives it. In We The Living, Pavel Syerov is one of the main beneficiary of the Communist revolution. However, he didn't even participate in the main event that toppled the previous political establishment. It was misguided but honest people like Andrei who were the prime movers in that regard. Bottom line being, evil qua evil is impotent and requires “sanction of the good” consistently, to sustain itself. But actions of Les Mahler are fairly independent of good characters. That is, most of the times he can drive his tasks without any support from good characters. He does depend on Cylon the hacker a lot, but no way can he be classified as good. And Galileo, to move on is dependent on rational support of rational elements from the government that here is essentially evil. While John Galt also depended on actions of evil government bureaucrats and politicians in Atlas Shrugged. But he, Frisco, and others depended on irrational elements in the essentially corrupt system.

Though overall Les Mahler is a lot inferior to Galileo, but in complete scheme of things, he is not irrational enough.


Finally, I would comment on the view of invention in this novel. Natalie clearly spends most of the time, efforts, and risks in building anti-aging technology. But the primary breakthrough actually comes from Nina. So in this sense Nina is actually the main inventor, and Natalie is the one who just takes the invention to its logical conclusion, and gets the final credit. But any invention, and its basic trajectory ought to be the product of single mind. Enright House is Roark's, or Rearden metal belongs to Hank Rearden, no matter how many people are employed to build the final product. Even in real life, Macintosh, iPod, or iPhone are Steve Job's babies, given the history and trajectory of Apple. Seed idea of invention, as slightly hinted in the novel text, cannot and ought not be collective. The idea has to be an individual effort, even though final product requires multiple people.

Better approach should have been similar to the way Mark Zuckerberg discovers “Relationship Status” in the movie The Social Network. By getting Eureka moment when one of his friends is discussing relationships of their classmates.


To end this section on a personal footnote, one of my favorite line is the one which highlights the contemporary culture that blanks out genuinely heroic(read rational) actions. The line that emphasizes the point comes in Part 1, when twisted news of Natalie trying to exploit Zoe breaks out. It says that in perfectly sensational news stories, there are only victims and villains.


CONCLUSION


All in all, the plot of No Time to Die is rapidly moving, value driven, has suspense, and is therefore engaging. Characters are motivated, and therefore memorable. Style ties abstractions with corresponding concretes, and is therefore relatable. The theme and plot theme are contemporary and yet universal. This makes it an extremely relevant novel for a reader interested in adding spiritual fuel to his life. Looking forward to next novel in the series for more such fuel.

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