Reviewed by Donna Meredith
A science fiction and thriller hybrid, Mark Canter’s Orchard of My Eye offers a fast-paced and engaging read.
Canter teaches comparative religion at Florida State University. This background is reflected in the philosophical underpinnings of this novel. The main character, Nat Colt, is a research scientist dying of brain cancer. Nat imagines what his afterlife might be like, drawing some of his intriguing ideas, not surprisingly, from modern physics.
Nat also explains how he would improve the universe: “After middle-age, when a person has finally figured out who he is and what he wants to do with his one precious life, he would start getting younger, stronger, more flexible, more energetic—the glory and vitality of youth would return.” No doubt, the older you are, the better this idea sounds.
While philosophical musings add depth to the novel, it remains primarily an action-packed thriller.
In typical thriller fashion, Canter uses several characters as narrators to tell the story, with Nat emerging as the dominant voice. Vulnerability always increases a character’s likeability rating, and as chemo and cancer ravage his body, Nat believes he looks like “compost” and “doggie doo.” He is also damaged by the death of his wife, whom he still loves dearly. When the author adds in Nat’s adoration of his young daughter, every reader is bound to be rooting for Nat’s survival.
The primary goal on Nat’s bucket list is to find a new mother to care for his little girl once he dies. Another goal is to complete the cutting-edge research he and his late wife were conducting on computer implants to repair macular degeneration in human eyes. (Similar, though less spectacular eye implants are now FDA-approved.) All Nat needs is a human to volunteer as a guinea pig.
Enter Aria Rioverde, a professor of ethnomusicology and dancer who is rapidly becoming blind. Despite misgivings, she agrees to undergo the surgery. Nat is able to restore Aria’s eyesight, but her vision continues evolving far beyond normal human capacity. Among other achievements, she begins to see into other dimensions predicted by Einstein and string theory. Soon, Nat and Aria learn that governments and thugs worldwide will stop at nothing to obtain this new technology.
The novel has enough twists, surprises, and explosions to keep a thriller fan turning the pages. A weakness of the story is that most characters fall neatly into the all-good or all-bad category. In addition, one plot twist hinges on a huge coincidence that feels unbelievable. Nonetheless, Orchard of My Eye provides a great escape into an exciting fictional world, coupled with thought-provoking insights into the actual world we inhabit—which is what the best science fiction has always achieved.
Occasionally, science fiction has gone even further. Just as test tube babies were predicted in the novels of Aldous Huxley and submarines by the stories of Jules Verne, Mark Canter might one day be known for creating a science fiction tale that becomes fact. And wouldn’t it be a magnificent—and scary—achievement if someday humans could see into other dimensions?
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Canter holds a Masters Degree from the Florida State University Interdisciplinary Humanities Program and also has a journalism degree from the University of Florida. Canter is the former senior editor of Men’s Health magazine. His non-fiction writing also has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, Miami Herald, St. Petersburg Times, Yoga Journal, Shambhala Sun, Writer’s Digest, and other periodicals. He is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and his debut novel, Ember From the Sun, has been published in ten languages. Other novels include The Bastard: A Secret Never Told, Down to Heaven, and Second Nature.