Saturday, January 21, 2006


Finished Jar City this morning. It was indeed good. Interestingly, the plot turned out to centre round the Iceland genetics database, which we've covered a lot in Nature. The Iceland population is sufficiently isolated for a sufficient amount of historical time, and small enough, that a registry can be made of the whole country, and traits tracked. There has been a lot of fuss about data privacy, etc, as the operation is run commercially by an outfit called DeCode. Jar City's plot is about genetically transmitted disease, and also about body parts being removed (and autopsies performed) without family consent, another controversial theme (in the UK at least, with the Alder Hey scandal of a few years ago). In Jar City, these themes are intertwined, successfully in plot terms. As usual, science comes off badly, or rather misuse of scientific knowledge is portrayed as all-too easy. I can't believe that it is as easy as all that to break an encrypted code in a medial database (the plot turns on a character having this ability but no details are given of how it was done). The whole point of double-blind is that no one person ever could decipher the code. So this part of the plot was unconvincing. I admit it would be harder to write an exciting book (eg a detective novel) where science is OK and not "misused" in some way (usually by evil scientist). It is a pity that science gets a "bad press" in fiction, apart from the science fiction genre, which is too "niche" and geeky for me. (Fiendishly convoluted plots and zero characterisation is how I would sum it up, though I must have been enthusiastic once as I did read every SF book in the Newcastle under Lyme public library when I was 13 and 14 -- I had to wait there each day after school for my Dad to give me a lift home to our house in the distant countryside -- maybe young teen is the best age for it ;-).) Nevertheless, despite all this rambling, I am looking forward to reading Indridason's next book in the series, when the translation comes out in paperback later this year.