Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Vessel / Rita Kempley

Reviewed by: Pete Barber

Genre: Sci-Fi

Approximate word count: 80,000-85,000 words

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Rita Kempley, writer, journalist and editor, spent nearly twenty-five years as a film critic for the Washington Post. The Vessel is her debut novel.


Set in a post-apocalyptic future where rising sea water (cause unspecified, but not important to the plot) has wrecked modern society. Major advancements in transplant technology enable the rich to extend their lives by hundreds of years.


The Hughes Corporation has taken transplant technology to the extreme by ‘growing’ clones for its customers. These ‘vessels’ are maintained  in tanks of amniotic-like fluid, ready to be imbued with the old host’s brain functions.

The premise was well articulated with a ‘clean room’ of latent new bodies waiting in pods (chrysalis)  for their ‘owners’ to decide when they wished to switch into a newer, younger body. The picture the author painted of pods lined up in a sterile room reminded me of a scene from Coma (there’s nothing wrong with channeling Robin Cook). The pseudo-science backstory pulled in references to “Dolly,” the Scottish cloned sheep, and the disgraced South Korean cloning program—all good grist for the speculative mill.

Dr. Margaret Hughes, daughter of the CEO, Morgan Hughes, is the neurologist/surgeon who performs the mind transplants. The opening scene, where a money-rich, personality-poor loudmouth brings in his thirty-something trophy wife to be transplanted into a younger model with bigger breasts, set the tone for the rest of the book. The writing is crisp and irreverent, the plot fast-moving.

A religious group, the Fundies, opposes the transplants. They claim the clones have no soul (and therefore should be destroyed) and the transplanting should be stopped. Their “Right-to-Death” movement is led by The Right Reverend Dr. Orville Hast III, a caricature of a hypocritical religious nut.

In the middle of these two groups, the story follows a twenty-something man, Chase, who works as a Grinder, paid to transport human organs from an organ farm to the area hospitals. The livers and kidneys etc, are iced down in his backpack, and Chase rides roller-blades (with rocket propulsion capability) because that’s the quickest way to get around those parts of the crumbling city infrastructure that remain above water.

Chase becomes Morgan’s love interest. There are twists and turns in the plot regarding his genesis, and a final showdown whose conclusion I felt somewhat dissatisfied with.

Part of me wanted the concepts to be more fully explored. Part of me wanted a less coincident-driven plot. Part of me wanted the characters to behave in a more believable manner. But if those changes were made, the humorous, tongue-in-cheek way the material is presented might be lost.

If you enjoy speculative fiction, I’d recommend Vessel (great title BTW) as a fun read without the usual depressing post-apocalyptical scenarios more common to this genre—I think you’ll enjoy the story. I did.

Format/Typo Issues:

Only three minor ones—kudos to the author J.

Rating: **** Four stars

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