Excerpt from Orfeo by Richard Powers, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Orfeo by Richard Powers X
Orfeo by Richard Powers
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2014, 393 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2014, 384 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Orfeo

An overture, then:

Lights blaze from an American Craftsman home in a demure neighborhood, late on a spring evening, in the tenth year of the altered world. Shadows dance against the curtains: a man working late, as he has every night that winter, in front of shelves filled with glassware. He's clad in mufti, protective goggles, and latex hospital gloves, and his Giacometti body hunches forward as if in prayer. A gray but still-thick Beatles mop hangs in his eyes.

He studies a book on the gear-cluttered workbench. In one hand—a single-channel pipette, raked like a dagger. From a tiny refrigerated vial, he sucks up no more colorless liquid than a hoverfly might take from a sprig of bee balm. This pellet goes into a tube no bigger than a mouse's muzzle, a dollop so small he can't be sure it's really there. His gloved hands shake as he shoots the used pipette tip into the trash.

More liquids go from the beakers into the dollhouse cocktail: oligo primers to start the magic; heat-stabilized catalyzing polymerase; nucleotides that fall in line like enlisted men for a five a.m. reveille, a thousand bonds per minute. The man follows the printed recipe like an amateur cook.

The brew goes into the thermal cycler for twenty-five rounds of roller-coaster flux, swinging between near-boiling and tepid. For two hours, DNA melts and anneals, snatches up free-floating nucleotides, and doubles each time through the loop. Twenty-five doublings turn a few hundred strands into more copies than there are people on Earth.


Outside, budding trees submit to the whims of a light wind. A wave of holdout nightjars skim the air for bugs. The do-it-yourself genetic engineer removes a colony of bacteria from his incubator and sets it under the laminar flow hood. He stirs the flattened culture flask and dispenses the loosened cells into a twenty-four-well sample plate. This plate goes under a microscope, at 400x. The man puts his eye up to the lens and sees the real world.

Next door, a family of four watches the denouement of Dancing with the Stars. One house to the south, an executive secretary for a semi-criminal real estate development firm arranges next fall's cruise to Morocco. Across the double expanse of backyards, a market analyst and his pregnant lawyer wife lie in bed with their glowing tablets, playing offshore Texas hold 'em and tagging pictures from a virtual wedding. The house across the street is dark, its owners at an all-night faith-healing vigil in West Virginia.

No one thinks twice about the quiet, older bohemian in the American Craftsman at 806 South Linden. The man is retired, and people take up all kinds of hobbies in retirement. They visit the birthplaces of Civil War generals. They practice the euphonium. They learn tai chi or collect Petoskey stones or photograph rock formations in the shape of human faces.

But Peter Els wants only one thing before he dies: to break free of time and hear the future. He's never wanted anything else. And late in the evening, in this perversely fine spring, wanting that seems at least as reasonable as wanting anything.



I did what they say I tried to do. Guilty as charged.



On the tape, the hum of deep space. Then a clear alto says: Pimpleia County Emergency Services, Dispatcher Twelve. What is the location of your emergency?

There comes a sound like a ratchet wrapped in a towel. A hard clap breaks into clatter: the phone hitting the floor. After a pause, a tenor, in the upper registers of stress, says: Operator?

Yes. What is the loc—

We need some medical help here.

The alto crescendos. What's the nature of your problem?

The answer is a low, inhuman cry. The tenor murmurs, It's okay, sweetie. It's all right.

Excerpted from Orfeo by Richard Powers. Copyright © 2014 by Richard Powers. Excerpted by permission of W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Creating Music from Science

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Timekeepers
    Timekeepers
    by Simon Garfield
    If you can spare three minutes and 57 seconds, you can hear the driving, horse-gallop beat of Sade&#...
  • Book Jacket: How to Stop Time
    How to Stop Time
    by Matt Haig
    Tom Hazard, the protagonist of How to Stop Time, is afflicted with a condition of semi-immortality ...
  • Book Jacket: Mothers of Sparta
    Mothers of Sparta
    by Dawn Davies
    What it's about:
    The tagline on the back cover of Mothers of Sparta says it all: "Some women...
  • Book Jacket: Fortress America
    Fortress America
    by Elaine Tyler May
    In Fortress America, Elaine Tyler May presents a fascinating but alarming portrait of America's...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

From the bestselling author of Orphan Train, a stunning novel of passion and art.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    As Bright as Heaven
    by Susan Meissner

    A story of a family reborn through loss and love in Philadelphia during the flu epidemic of 1918.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Next Year in Havana
    by Chanel Cleeton

    a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she finds a family secret hidden since the revolution.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore

A gripping novel from the award-winning author of For Today I Am a Boy.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

G O T P, B The P, F T P

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.