Stephen P. Kiernan’s THE CURIOSITY is Part “Encino Man”, Part “Blast from the Past”

In 1991, two German tourists discovered the body of Otzi, the now infamous Ice Man, believed to have died and been encased in ice near 5,000 years ago. Though well-preserved, Otzi’s body more resembles traditional mummies than living, breathing tissue. But what if it didn’t? What if Otzi were flash-frozen, so to speak, encased in ice in perfect preservation and scientists had the reanimation technology? This is the question tackled by Stephen P. Kiernan in The Curiosity.

After joining an Arctic expedition in 1906, Judge Jeremiah Rice fell overboard into the Arctic Ocean and was perfectly preserved in ice. Dr. Kate Philo is a member of a modern-day scientific team working on a process to reanimate small ocean animals. Her team travels to the Arctic to harvest the creatures from the ice when they find and recover Rice’s body. They take him back to the lab where they reanimate him. When he awakens, he is thrown into a world completely different from the one he remembers. Kate takes it upon herself to help acclimatize him, and finds herself falling in love with the judge, who is so different than the men she is used to. It isn’t long before Kate realizes Rice is about to suffer the same fate as the reanimated shrimp and krill—his metabolism is speeding, burning up his energy, and he will soon die. At first, Erastus Carthage, the director of the project, attempts to control media coverage of the event, but it soon snowballs out of control, and Rice and Kate are on the run from both the media and the authorities.

The Curiosity is written from the points of view of four characters: Kate Philo, Jeremiah Rice, Erastus Carthage, and Daniel Dixon, the reporter Carthage initially hires as exclusive teller of the expedition’s tale.  While Kate, Rice and Dixon are written in first person point of view, Carthage is written in second person, and I’m not sure why. I’m also not sure why the two points of view I most dislike are third person omniscient and second person, perhaps because so few modern stories are told well this way. Kate is perhaps the most realistic character of the four. I found Carthage to be the stereotypical megalomaniac, better than thou academic type, and in spite of the point of using second person narrative—to put the reader into the role of the character—I neither liked him, nor identified with him. Dixon is portrayed as the hard-boiled, unimpressed, unfazed reporter who has seen it all, objectifies women (particularly Kate), and winds up portraying the team as a fraud. Somehow, it works. Dixon’s parts were quite amusing to read. Though Rice is interesting as a concept, I found his attraction to Kate a little two convenient plot-wise. The last thing he remembers is leaving his wife and daughter, and while they are long dead, they are not to him. Rice doesn’t seem to grieve much for them, making his attraction to Kate and his easy-going adaptation to the present somewhat questionable.

Part Encino Man, part Blast from the Past, and yes, per other reviewers, part Michael Crichton and Time Traveler’s Wife, The Curiosity is well-written with interesting characters. I found myself drawn into Kate’s romance with Rice and amused at the way the media is portrayed with the ability to spin information hundreds of ways. Kiernan juxtaposes the nostalgia of an idyllic and integrity-rich lifestyle of only a century ago with the fast-paced, technology and tabloid-integrity of the modern world. Though the story is predictable at times (Who didn’t see Kate’s hook-up with Rice from their first scene together? Or know that Rice would wake-up and surpass the expectations for post-animation life span?), and sometimes weighed down with scientific jargon, The Curiosity is an entertaining and interesting story that documents our fascination with pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge, and then holding science’s successes up for vilification in the media.

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 About the Author

Elise Abram, English teacher and former archaeologist, has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn’t until she was asked to teach Writer’s Craft in 2001 that she began to seriously write. Her first novel, THE GUARDIAN, was partially published as a Twitter novel a few summers back (and may be accessed at @RKLOGYprof). Nearly ten years after its inception Abram decided it was time to stop shopping around with traditional publication houses and publish PHASE SHIFT on her own.