When do the needs of the country outweigh the rights of the citizens? When does poverty become such an issue that the wealthy force their beliefs on others? Set in the near future, John Writher’s book The Killer App focuses on a struggling image of the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Robert Hand is desperately looking for solutions to fix the challenges of an unemployed population. Businessman Bill Haugan is on a ruthless crusade to bring up profits and fight against aging. Janet Icks is a genetic scientist who has discovered a possible cure; by injecting a certain DNA sequence she is able to change the genetic makeup of a baby so that it grows to be an adult already on the planet. The three scheme together to come up with solutions for their failing world. After an extensive search, the three settle on Candidate 1456; a starving artist with nothing to live for. 1456 is sullen, frustrating and hateful. He volunteers for death on his 40th birthday, only to find that the experiment is about to go horribly wrong. Icks, Hand and Haugun work quickly to cover up their mistakes, but find that some secrets cannot be kept.
The Killer App did something that few books have done lately; it scared me to the core. Even characters who seem to be able to connect with other human beings make horrifying decisions for others. Possibly the most graphic scene involves 1456, who has volunteered for the experiment. The volunteer decides to back out of the experiment that will kill him just a few minutes before. He loses points for his reasoning for backing out, but the fact that he is forced into a procedure where many of his organs are removed while he still lives left me with shivers. Even worse was his removal from the facility without the proper equipment. The characters are intentionally unlikable, to the point where the reader wonders how someone could feel there are so innocent while being so innately evil. Scientists will likely laugh off a majority of the science in this novel, as it is more akin to something Mary Shelly would have cooked up during a thunderstorm had she known about DNA. Writher also spends a good deal of time explaining motives and behaviors, a few instances to the detriment of the more imaginative reader.
The Killer App is not a book for the squeamish of stomach or those who like to keep their reading light and innocent. It is often violent, several times stomach turning and perhaps not so fantastical in a few years, should science keep its steady march forward.