Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Secret of Life” as Want to Read:
The Secret of Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Secret of Life

3.32  ·  Rating Details ·  150 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
2026: Something is growing in the Pacific Ocean, a strange fungus-like organism that may threaten our entire food chain. Christened "the slick," the bizarre phenomenon is quickly the subject of intense, top-secret analysis-which rapidly reveals that it contains DNA unlike that of any other life on the planet.

Where is it from? A Chinese mission to Mars is rumored to have di
ebook, 416 pages
Published May 19th 2002 by Tor Books (first published 2001)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Chad Mitchell
My first thought when I picked this book up over 14 years ago (yep, I have had it that long) was that it was a self help book with an odd cover (my copy has an orange mountain scene on a black background which is supposed to be Mars). I would have passed it up all together had it not been for the blurbs on the back side from sci-fi greats Stephen Baxter and Greg Bear. After reading the cover flap I realized it was indeed sci-fi and it seemed rather interesting, so I took it home…where it sat on ...more
Peter Tillman
Jan 02, 2017 Peter Tillman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rating: "A-". A stirring saga of science, Mars, and life, marred by a
weak ending, but well-worth your attention.

Paul McAuley's usual topics and tropisms are well-employed in
this new biotech SF-thriller. In 2026 a Martian microbe, secretly
brought back to Earth by a Chinese expedition, is accidentally
released into the Pacific during an attempt to steal a sample by
Cytex, a powerful but unscrupulous American biotech firm. The
Mars-bug thrives, and grows into strange floating islands, which
shed 'slick
This is a deliberate turn to the more commercial for McAuley but at the same time a return to previous endeavours, and the hard political / bioscience near future timeline he created in the wonderful and hallucinatory 'Fairyland'.

So what's the deal? Well, it isn't really about life on Mars. That's just the background for what is effectively a debate about science and society, and quite a complex debate at that. Despite the fact that there are 'daring hero(ines)' and 'big villains' in the traditi
Aug 06, 2011 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you haven't taken a graduate level genetics course, microbiology, or something of the like, you'll be hard-pressed to understand half the stuff that goes on. That being said, even though I have done the former, and taught the latter, it was still kinda heavy reading for 3 in the morning. But I did understand everything, and it actually taught or refreshed a few things in my head. It's a scary look and what might happen in the near future with gene therapy and modification, as well as geopolit ...more
Andy Love
Dec 31, 2012 Andy Love rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Paul McAuley mines the life of Richard Feynman thoroughly* for this story of a biologist, Mariella Anders, who is faced by a challenge in biological science that may destroy the Earth, but who also is faced by the difficulties involving the conflicts between science, commerce and politics - for even in the face of a spreading biological invasion devastating the oceans of the Earth, various nations, multinational corporations, and other interest groups are more interested in using the situation t ...more
Aug 24, 2016 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For something I found on a library's sell cart, merely looking for something to read on the way home on a long bus ride, this was quite a gem.

McAuley has a doctorate in biology, which is one reason for sure why the story is so plausibly delightful. It centers around an extraterrestrial microbe (obtained from space or an asteroid, I forget how, and possibly by the Chinese) that becomes purposely deposited in the ocean, and begins growing this weird mass, which kinda has people freaked out. It's
Dec 31, 2016 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently read The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun so I was prepared for McAuleys writing style. I'm glad I read those first, because his quirks of writing were less forgivable in this more familiar setting.
Storyline was fascinating and moved right along. EXCEPT when he decided to go overboard on descriptions and info-dumps. Now, you should know that these two things are WHY I read these kinds of books. The fact that I'm complaining about both of them should tell you something!
I'm sure there
Dec 06, 2012 Xarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set in the near-future, this novel brings a lot of interesting and thought-provoking ideas to the storyline. The "good" and "bad" of science, the idea of people desiring a different way of life on their own terms, the slow destruction of Earth and the science to fix it (improperly), and the greed and short sightedness of corporations.

The science in this is really fascinating. The idea of an organism from Mars causing crazy problems on Earth and the rush to find a solution. The adventure from Ear
May 29, 2012 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Secret of Life is a fascinating adventure through an environmentally dystopian world, through the eyes of a deeply flawed genius. The storytelling is engaging, and most of the characters are ones about whom I wanted to know more rather than less. The basic story is the quest to understand how to deal with an invasive martian bacteria which threatens to choke out earthly life, and along the way we get to see the effects of radical climactic change, people who have altered themselves, and many ...more
Drini Cami
Apr 22, 2014 Drini Cami rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This has to be one of the worst books that I've ever tried to read. I may not be in the place to judge since I couldn't finish it, but I don't believe that the book got much better. The hardest thing to comprehend was that this could have been a fantastic novel (when I read the jacket description, I really wanted to read it!), but "you can never judge a book by its cover." The writing was lazy, and I kept expecting the story to pick up, and then I stopped waiting. The characters were very bizarr ...more
Jun 28, 2007 Jon rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Serious scifi fans only
McAuley is no doubt a gifted author when it comes to writing about science: his physics, chemistry, and biology-oriented passages are lucid and brilliant. But his writing suffers as a whole because of his tendency to delve too deeply into those passages, sometimes to the point of sacrificing valuable pages that should have been spent forwarding the plot. In this particular book I felt he spent far too much time trying to prove the brilliance of his main character (the entire first third of the b ...more
May 08, 2011 Magdelanye rated it liked it
Shelves: sci-fi
It was interesting to read a book that holds dear many ideas that scare me, most especially genetic engineering. Surprisingly, I found the heroine of this tale entirely likeable, which gave me a grip on the rather convoluted action. The writing was brisk and the dialogue good, but the use of the present tense to delineate time frames was irritating. There was a lot of technical detail and much ethical speculation. The author does succeed, in my opinion, in bringing out several sides of the class ...more
Sep 28, 2013 Stephen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm usually a fan of hard sciecne fiction but The Secret of Life just never caught and sustained my interest. None of the characters really stand out and the complex science that serves as the bedrock of the story, while clearly well researched and within the "what if" traditions of hard science fiction was heavy going. My first go at a book my McAuley who I have good trhings about for years. The Secret of Life was good enough for me totry another of his books when they cross my pasth but not re ...more
s.e. smith
This book took me FOREVER to read, but I enjoyed it. It's a what-if about finding life on Mars, and the scientific and political fallout on a near-future Earth. It's obviously written by a scientist who has a lot of knowledge and feelings about academia, politics, genetic engineering, and biology. The science was very cool though very hard for me to understand, and there were huge long sections of basically road-trips through weird radical green colonies in the Western USA. It's clearly very wel ...more
Jun 21, 2015 Garyjn rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good SciFi novel about an alien origin ocean slick threatening thew Earth's food chain, a mission to Mars to find an answer to said slick, and a noble scientist vs. greedy corporation struggle for control of the mission's findings. Good concepts, sometimes explained in a little too much detail for my non-science mind, causing me to sometimes drift off and have to do some re-reading. Fans of hard SciFi should find it interesting.
Mar 20, 2016 Chet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This author covers a lot of ground in his books and succeeds with it in this book, which explores the possibility of DNA on Mars and the separate efforts of China and a corporation to grab power and money over the discovery of this DNA while an honest scientist (the heroine) and a punk-hippie-like organization in apparent cahoots with Mexico try to free the DNA code for public access. This adventure takes the reader from Earth to Mars and back in a series of exciting escapades.
Apr 16, 2013 Aurelien rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi-fantasy
Genetics, space exploration, exobiology, politics... Here's a great book full of suspens and twists and turns bringing up, also, good questions regarding the practices of modern science. Indeed, at the time of genetic engineering and global capitalism, what about scientific discoveries? Whom do they belong to? Science, trade, finance and politics, 'The Secret of Life' has it all.

Some annoying dialogues but, all in all it's a great piece.
Dec 09, 2010 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good read reminiscent of Carl Sagan's Contact but updated to talk about biology the way that the general focus of research has shifted from physics to biology. It also has great moments when examining academic culture. Lots of action interesting characters and a cool idea about the origin of life and the forces that shape it.
Sep 05, 2013 Brian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Much more science that typical science fiction, more basis in the biology of what was going on and how to combat it. Very intelligent and well written, but not always gripping to go through. Felt like a very slow read.
I'm a lot dubious about this guy. He consistently keeps it all plodding along, with reasonable entertainment value, and overly plausible science. But in the end, does it reach out an bite you on the chin like my cat does? No, sadly.
Koji Mukai
Brilliant in places, tedious in others --- I thought this was a good novel with a flawed ending.
Alex Anderson
Alex Anderson rated it really liked it
Jun 15, 2015
Gerda Du
Gerda Du rated it liked it
Sep 29, 2015
Vierblij rated it liked it
Oct 15, 2014
Mike Sullivan
Mike Sullivan rated it really liked it
Jan 12, 2017
Jennifer V
Jennifer V rated it really liked it
Mar 13, 2010
Riccardo rated it liked it
Oct 29, 2013
Elena rated it liked it
Mar 04, 2015
Megan rated it liked it
Apr 17, 2008
Jim rated it really liked it
Aug 03, 2013
« previous 1 3 4 5 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Dervish is Digital (Artificial Reality Division, #2)
  • Salt
  • The Broken Land
  • Earth Made of Glass (Giraut #2)
  • The Ragged Astronauts (Land and Overland Series, #1)
  • The Extremes
  • Take Back Plenty (Tabitha Jute, #1)
  • The Bones of Time
  • Limit of Vision
  • Maul
  • Silver Screen
  • Redrobe
  • Down the Bright Way
  • Paradox (The Nulapeiron Sequence, 1)
  • Moonfall
  • The Cassini Division (The Fall Revolution, #3)
  • Wheelers
  • The Memory of Whiteness: A Scientific Romance
Since about 2000, book jackets have given his name as just Paul McAuley.

A biologist by training, UK science fiction author McAuley writes mostly hard science fiction, dealing with themes such as biotechnology, alternate history/alternate reality, and space travel.

McAuley has also used biotechnology and nanotechnology themes in near-future settings.

Since 2001, he has produced several SF-based tech
More about Paul McAuley...

Share This Book