Up until this point, the scientific research team eventually known as the Lazarus Project has centered their efforts on miniscule creatures such as krill, found in Arctic "hard ice" and brought "back to life" in a laboratory --- at least for a little while. But on a seemingly routine gathering trip, the team comes across a rather larger specimen: a man frozen in the Arctic ice.
At first, Kate Philo and her team are not sure that the techniques they've used to reanimate plankton and shrimp will work with something (or someone) as large and complex as a human being. But project leader Erastus Carthage is convinced that this new find is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he's determined to succeed whatever the cost.
"As the stakes grow higher, Kiernan manages to push the boundaries of his premise without slipping into absurdity.... THE CURIOSITY is a rich novel of science that never forgets its heart and soul."
Sure enough, Carthage's wager pays off, and the subject --- soon to be identified as 38-year-old judge Jeremiah Rice --- is reawakened, more than a century after he perished from falling overboard while on an Arctic voyage back in 1906. At first, Judge Rice is sleepy and disinterested, as if both his body and mind are catching up on a hundred years of sleep. But as he wakes up, he begins to question his role in the Lazarus Project --- and in this new and unfamiliar 21st-century world --- and wants to engage with it in ways that may endanger him and the future of the project.
Accompanying him on these adventures is Kate Philo, the brilliant and gorgeous researcher who helped discover him in the first place. She is one of the few scientists who treats Jeremiah as a person, not just as a research subject, and wants to talk with him, not just measure his bodily functions. And as she does so --- as she introduces him to such modern innovations as airplanes, supermarkets and fast cars --- she finds herself waking up as well: "Imagine walking down a street past something so ordinary you barely register it, a fire hydrant. He asks you what it is; as you explain he listens so intently you find yourself speaking with greater care, less certainty, more humility about what you don't know…. Now imagine every moment like that, every day. With this man's curiosity at my side, life possessed a newness, a richness. Jeremiah Rice gave me back the world."
Stephen P. Kiernan, an award-winning journalist who is making his fiction debut, plays with the concept and word "curiosity" a great deal. Jeremiah is a scientific oddity, to be sure, but he is also endlessly inquisitive about this new world in which he finds himself. The novel is narrated by four separate individuals in alternating chapters: Kate and (eventually) Jeremiah, as well as Erastus Carthage (whose tendency to talk about himself in the second person offers some good insights into his personality) and journalist Daniel Dixon, who has his own reasons for his growing interest in the Jeremiah Rice case.
As the stakes grow higher, Kiernan manages to push the boundaries of his premise without slipping into absurdity. The obvious parallels with cryogenics (which become more overt as the story progresses) help add to the book's relevance and potential for fruitful discussion not only for its literary merits but also for its insights into bioethical questions, human subject research, and scientific and journalistic integrity. THE CURIOSITY is a rich novel of science that never forgets its heart and soul.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 12, 2013