The Footprints of God

Reviewed: October 29, 2004
By: Greg Iles
Publisher: Pocket Books
526 pages, $11.99

I admit to a certain fondness for books that deal in artificial intelligence, and with stories in which normal individuals are pushed to their limits. The opening sentence of this book made me buy it for company on a recent plane trip.

“My name is David Tennant, M.D. I'm professor of ethics at the University of Virginia Medical School, and if you're watching this tape, I'm dead.”

Tennant isn't dead. of course, since he is telling us his story, but he has been suffering from seizures and vivid dreams ever since he participated in a brain scanning experiment for the hush-hush project on which he is the ethical advisor.

All of the participants in that study, all of them members of the team, have been affected in different ways. One of them has recently died of an apparent stroke, but that one, Fielding, had sent Tennant a package under a coded name shortly before he died, and its contents are about to involve the doctor in a complex cat and mouse game that will take him all over America and even to the Middle East.

The purpose of the complex MRI scan was to record brain patterns for installation in a supercomputer that could actually begin to replicate the complexity of the human brain. Project Trinity was the name of a project to take the idea of artificial intelligence to the next level.

What Tennant has begun to suspect is that there is something wrong with the project and its goals. Fielding had felt the same, and now Fielding was dead. It was enough to inspire a certain amount of paranoia in anyone. To top it off, his dreams were telling him that Fielding's death was no accident.

When Tennant first began to have these problems he was assigned to a psychiatrist to help him deal with them. Rachel Weiss is thus drawn into a situation that she is hardly prepared to handle either, when Tennant's dreams take new turn and prove to provide a totally accurate warning of an attempt on his life.

Tennant reasons that the Trinity Project is in fact a ruse to allow the man behind it, a genius in the computer field named Peter Godin, the opportunity to download his mind from his terminally ill body into a supercomputer and transcend mortality, follow in the footsteps of God, as the title suggests. Tennant becomes convinced that he has to stop this from happening.

Why this is so difficult, how his enemies seem to anticipate his every move, what he must undergo in order to foil the plot that only he understands the ramifications of, are all part of an intricate story that grabbed me from the beginning and kept me involved until the end.

It's interesting how things change. I am aware of several novels that either have dealt or are about to deal with intelligence transferred to machines. They are all labeled science fiction. The Footprints of God is not, perhaps because it is written more like a thriller, perhaps because it is set in a near and recognizable future. I don't know exactly how publishers go about making their decisions for classification, but the lines between genres certainly are a lot more blurry than they used to be.