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FOUNTAIN SOCIETY: The Clone-Us Horror
Wes Craven mixes horror and science fiction in his first novel.
By Denise Dumars
December 22, 1999
Every reader knows that you can't judge a book by its cover. Certainly, the rather drab holographic cover of FOUNTAIN SOCIETY would not, alone, sell the book. And, at least in this case, you also can't judge a book by its first few pages--although this is precisely what literary agents and book editors do when a manuscript crosses their desks. But if that manuscript is by renowned film director Wes Craven, it merits a deeper analysis. And FOUNTAIN SOCIETY does, indeed. What begins as a book one might think of calling 'science fiction as written by Jackie Collins,' turns out to be a perfectly entertaining thriller crossing the genres of science fiction, medical thrillers, and Craven's specialty, horror.
As a director, Craven manages to add a touch of class even to slasher films. As a novelist, he displays the same talent. Though the scenes of horror-including, reader be warned, the vivisection of both lab animals and human subjects-are graphically rendered, the language of the book is far above that of the usual hack 'n' slash cheapo horror title with a black cover. (Would that this one had a more colorful cover as well.) His characters--even the scientists whom we could legitimately call mad--have a depth of voice and intellect that is often missing in similar sorts of books.
Put simply, this is a story about immortality. But the clumsy, morally bankrupt attempts of the FOUNTAIN SOCIETY (Fountain of Youth--get it?) make the possibilities of cloning horrific. Dr. Peter Jance and his wife, Dr. Beatrice Jance, are elderly scientists working on the latest weapon of mass destruction for the U. S. Government. Peter is dying of pancreatic cancer, and will not live to finish his work. Or will he? Herein lies the plan.
In Europe, a spoiled financier named Hans Brinkman is philandering with a beautiful model named Elizabeth. Soon he 'dies' in a fiery car crash, but when Elizabeth receives a mysterious e-mail from the small Caribbean island of Vieques, she starts to believe that her lover is still alive and goes to investigate. Peter's cancer has reached the terminal stage. The Fountain project is about to begin. Hans supplies the donor body; Peter supplies the brain and is reborn in Hans's 35 year-old ubermensch physique. We learn that Hans was, in fact, a clone of Peter Jance.
The fact that 'Hans' has been, effectively, murdered in order to give Peter a new lease on life doesn't seem to really bother anybody--until he starts dreaming of Elizabeth, and discovering talents he didn't have before he was reborn in Hans's body. Peter/Hans eventually meets up with Elizabeth; there's a wonderful romantic moonlit meeting on the beach, and things get more complicated from here. For one thing, Peter still loves his wife, but now he realizes he loves Elizabeth as well. Without giving too much away, other clones were of course planned for others working on the project. And we learn a thing or two about Elizabeth as well.
There are several exciting chases in the book; everyone, including Peter and his wife, seems to realize the horror they've created, leading to a big, moral crisis; and if you want to know what happens next (and what happens to the weapon they've designed), you're just gonna have to read the book.
Craven writes women characters very well--surprisingly well, in fact. Probably the most sympathetic character in the book (if we can forget that she's a mad scientist) is Beatrice, the aging scientist who deals with her life mate's rebirth in a new body and his attachment to another woman. Elizabeth, too, comes into her own as a bright but troubled character who has hidden reserves of strength and resourcefulness.
Craven also did his homework well, and salts the book liberally with just enough scientific and technological detail to make the subjects he deals with plausible to the reader. It's a truly scary 'what-if' kind of thriller that should appeal across genres to science fiction, horror, and even mainstream thriller fans. The book even makes the reader think: gosh, there's got to be a better way to find the Fountain of Youth than this.
FOUNTAIN SOCIETY has been optioned by DreamWorks. The screenplay will be written by Laeta Kalogridis, with production slated to begin in July 2000. It should make a very exciting film, indeed.