The Movement of Mountains – Michael Blumlein (1987)
‘The Domers were huge and stupid.
Genetically engineered with a five year life span, they were salve miners, created and maintained to work the ice-cold planet Eridis. They brought out the fungus that became Mutacillin, Earth’s wonder drug.
But the Domers were changing.
A viral infection had spread from earth. They were becoming mentally, intellectually awakened. Memories and hopes were stirring in them. And in their near humanity they were becoming useless for their designed purpose.
Doctor Jules Ebert had to cure them, turn them back into cloned, mindless effectiveness…’
Blurb from the 1989 New English Library paperback edition.
From the outset this extraordinary novel sets us up for something rather unusual. Jules, the narrator of the novel, is a doctor, but one with an eating disorder. He and his lover Jessica live in separate areas of a future earth. Jules, being a professional, lives in an enclave where ‘guards’ will immobilise anyone not registered on their database. Genetically engineered Fargos Hounds roam the streets and consume waste plastic, before excreting it into recycling receptacles. Jessica lives in a less salubrious area where she pays her landlord and his son, Mingo Boyels, rent in the form of sexual favours.
Jessica is planning to move to the planet of Eridis, where a unique fungus has been found which produces Mutacillin, an antibiotic which mutates to combat even drug resistant bacteria. She has been offered a job working to discover how to grow the fungus off-world, something that has been so far impossible to do.
In the meantime, Mingo has visited Jules as a patient, exhibiting signs of herpes (thought to be extinct) but which may be a symptom of a new sickness called Barea’s disease, which seems to be beyond Mutacillin’s power to cure.
Jules and Jessica argue frequently. Jules will not believe the rumours that Fargos Hounds have begun attacking people until he hears a scream and sees Jessica running toward his home. Fargos Hounds are attacking her and others.
They argue again and Jessica tries to leave but is attacked by the ‘guards’ and is forced to stay.
The early sections are full of references to disease, both literal and metaphorical. The very shape of the town, Ringhaven, suggests a biological cell (it has a wall round it) which electrical antibodies are protecting against intruders.
The Fargos Hounds are like mutated cells. They have stopped behaving as programmed and have become cancerous, attacking the body that sustains them.
Jules, after much soul searching, decides to follow Jessica to Eredis, although his journey is delayed some months.
Mingo’s condition deteriorates and, although Jules referred him to a more experienced Doctor, he dies.
Eredis is a mining world where Domers, huge genetically engineered humanoids, toil through the short cycle of their lives to harvest Mutacillin. Jessica, it transpires, has become obsessed with the plight of the Domers who, as artificial life-forms, are treated as slaves. Both she and the director of the operation, Guysin Hoke, have been conducting clandestine affairs with two of the Domers, although their views on the creatures are fundamentally opposed, with Guysin viewing them as tools created for a purpose. Jessica looks on them as sentient beings, despite the fact that their lifespan is only five years, after which their bodies are destroyed and the organic residue used to grow the next generation.
When Jessica becomes ill, Jules realises that she has contracted Barea’s disease. Both he and Jessica have been experiencing other people’s memories. When Jules contacts Earth for up-to-date information on the disease he discovers that there is now a cure. In the meantime Jessica is close to discovering a way of growing the delicate spores which produce mutacillin off-planet, which will mean the end of the Eredis mining operation and the end of the Domers.
Shortly afterwards, she is found dead at the bottom of a mine.
Jules turns against all he has ever believed in and – with Jessica’s memories and personality in his head, comes to the conclusion that the virus is a good thing. It allows a form of shared consciousness and, if his theory is correct, will allow the Domers to survive as individual personalities when they are destroyed and reborn.