• The Experiment

    by Richard Setlowe

    Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1980

    ISBN 0-03-041745-7     Buy This Book

  • The Experiment

     New York Times masthead 

    Book Review

    Ordinarily Fantastic
    By Jack Sullivan

    "The Experiment," a science-fiction novel with strong overtones of fantasy and horror, is the story of Harry Styles, a terminal lung cancer patient who volunteers for a revolutionary experiment involving the replacement of his lungs with gills at the moment of his death. He is not meant to survive the operation but, to the horror of his family and doctors, he makes a complete recovery and is forced to live out his days in a giant fish tank. As much a novel about death and loneliness as an offbeat thriller, "The Experiment" is not as ludicrous as it sounds. In fact, it is surprisingly tense and gripping. Setlowe, author of "The Brink," immediately establishes a grim credibility by describing Harry's death in merciless emotional and physical detail. So harrowing is this realistic portion of the novel that by the time Mr. Setlowe moves into science fiction, with Harry suspended in his tank fluid "like some giant fetus," the metamorphosis merely seems like the next stage in Harry's incredible suffering. The greatest horror for Harry is loneliness. From the isolation of death, he awakens to a cold silent life in which he hears only his ears ring and his heart roar. The dramatic finale, in which Harry escapes to the sea and experiences an underwater phantasmagoria, delivers a welcome sense of wonder in the tradition of H.G. Wells's "In The Abyss."

    — Jack Sullivan is the author of "Hitchcock's Music" published by the Yale University Press.


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