The Alchemy of Blood: a scientific romance by Brian Stableford. Review by Sally Startup.
In this alternate Nineteenth century, doctor Mathieu Galmier is secretly researching an essence of beauty.
Aware that scientific discovery inevitably comes at a price, Mathieu allows others to pay it. He is not noble, or altruistic, or even especially determined. Nevertheless, he does have more of a conscience than his patient, Sir Julian Templeforth. Sir Julian is an aristocrat, raised to exploit those less fortunate than himself. Mathieu, on the other hand, is reflective, questioning the morality of his own actions, even when acting badly. I did not find him likeable, but he certainly comes across as very human.
The scientific knowledge that develops as a result of these characters’ actions is haphazard, containing accidents and mistakes. For this reason, it is also believable. The alternate scientific history uncovers links with mysticism. Mathieu’s explorations pose many questions for which the characters find no definitive answers. Can love make people more beautiful? Is there such a thing as inner beauty? And can scientific exploration by dubious and unethical means ever be justified by positive long-term consequences?
The wealthy and the ruling classes will benefit from the work of scientists like Mathieu, along with other experimenters like the Rosicrucians. Some positive changes will result, just as there are some positive changes in the lives of Mathieu’s accomplices and victims in this book. Those characters who are allowed a long enough life span, are able to share and learn, and grow and develop. Yet it is not a comfortable tale. I am looking forward to re-reading some of Brian’s other novels about emortality in the light of this one.