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The Technologists by Matthew Pearl
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's review
Feb 05, 2012

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Read from February 05 to March 03, 2012

In The Technologists, Pearl blends historical with fiction and fantasy to pit the original MIT team against a technologically-savvy villain in late nineteenth century Boston. Dubbing themselves “The Technologists,” the brainy team uses their scientific backgrounds in attempts to unearth bizarre catastrophic events happening within the Boston area. The plot focuses on the team’s efforts to piece together the causes of the catastrophe as well as their hopes of saving the city from its next potential disaster. While a few characters (Marcus Mansfield, Chauncey Hammond “Hammie”) are fictional, several of the team members are based on historical members of MIT (Robert Richards “Bob”, William Edwin Hoyt, Ellen Swallow).

While the premise is interesting, the dialogue and characterization suffer, and makes the read mediocre. Odd that in such an intelligent book that dialogue could be so unimaginative and corny. The dialogue has a feel of almost a comic book in many ways (I’m not sure if this is what was intended). I could envision the villain saying something like “And now! I will rule the world! ” and then laughing maniacally or one of the protagonists saying something along the lines of “Quick! To the Technologist’s cave!” So, this makes the characters a bit of stereotypes, and lessens what might have been a better novel.

Still, one redeeming value to Pearl’s novel is simply technology as a centerpiece of innovation. On one side, we have the skeptics who believe that technology is the root of all evil, who are fearful that the Institute is responsible for the tragedies and do not want to support MIT. At the other extreme, there is acceptance of technology as a hope for better quality of life. Reflecting on the novel now, I can see some parallels between Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and The Technologists. Public opinion seems to make the innovation the culpable factor, rather than blaming the one who’s behind the curtains pulling the levers, creating harm. Victor Frankenstein might have been foolish enough to tamper with science just like our antagonist here in The Technologists. Technology is a form of knowledge, and this should never be blamed. It’s commendable that these original MIT members took up a fairly unfavorable cause, and held it together, despite the pitchfork-wielding villagers with torches proclaiming “Burn it down! Burn it down!” in the heart of Boston.

Pearl also has an interesting afterward, where he talks about the real life historical members of the team, as well as their struggles during the institute’s first stages.
Science buffs will probably enjoy The Technologists. While I felt lukewarm about this novel, I still want to check out The Poe Shadow.
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02/09/2012 page 50
02/23/2012 page 361
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