Title: THE MUD MAN
Author: Donna Marie West
Genre: Contemporary new adult; anthropological science fiction (is that a genre?); cultural heritage
Main character description (short): There are two: Dom, a neolithic man found frozen but alive (barely) in northern British Columbia; and Veronica, the anthropologist/archaeologist who takes on his guardianship as he learns to adapt to the modern world.
When archeologist Veronica Booth is called to consult on a dig in northern BC, she expects to see the usual remnants of neolithic jewelry and tools. Never in her wildest dreams does she imagine finding a man’s body preserved in a thawing bog. More shocking still—he’s alive!
The mud man, as Veronica comes to think of him, is medevacked to the hospital suffering from multiple traumatic injuries, frostbite, and extreme dehydration, He carries no identification, and the remaining shreds of his leather clothing reveal no zippers, buttons, or tags. Veronica, suspecting he may be more than an indigenous hunter who has suffered a tragic accident, becomes his guardian.
The mud man matches no missing persons report and his DNA is like nothing on record, although he has markers found in several Native American tribes. Carbon-14 dating of his clothing and other items come back with the unbelievable date of 9,500 years! His doctor tells Veronica that the patient is loaded with a previously unknown, seemingly mutated form of the Bacillus F. bacteria, which he hopes to eradicate with antibiotics.
Veronica learns that three-million-year-old specimens of Bacillus F. found in thawing permafrost soil in Siberia proved to be alive and thriving. Some Russian scientists even believe it could double the human lifespan. She can’t help speculating if the mud man’s bacterial infection could explain his miraculous survival.
Weeks pass, and the mud man regains consciousness, although he is not unscathed—doctors were unable to restore circulation in his toes or the ends of his fingers, which have had to be amputated. When the hospital insists that the patient be transferred to a long-term care facility, Veronica has him moved to the private hospital run by her ex-husband, Dr. Walter Cooper. While she genuinely has the invalid’s best interests at heart, Walter sees this man with no identity as the perfect donor for his well-intentioned but questionably ethical stem cell and gene therapy treatments for traumatic brain injuries.
As he regains his strength and learns to manage basic daily activities the man, who calls himself Dom, confirms Veronica’s suspicions. He has no concept of the modern world. Veronica, her assistant Chloe McLean, and Ty Forestall, the Native American nurse/physical therapist assigned to Dom painstakingly learn to communicate with him. Dom proves to be a gifted storyteller, and they learn that the mutated bacteria that kept him alive while frozen for millennia also extended his natural life—he appears to be in his mid or late thirties, but he’s actually three times that age.
All the while, Veronica has been documenting everything, and somewhere along the way, her scientific objectivity and personal motives are superseded by a desperate hope that Dom will recover from his grief over everything he has lost and learn to live happily in the modern world.
Meanwhile, Dr. Cooper has been using samples of Dom’s stem cells and other genetic material to treat his patients, with encouraging results. When Veronica refuses to let him continue using Dom as a lab rat, they agree that there is only one alternative.
A year after he was dug out of the mud, Veronica and Walter propose that Dom take them to the place where they suspect he was infected by the mutated Bacillus F. bacteria. He agrees. Walter arranges the trip for himself, Veronica, Dom, Chloe, Veronica’s mentor, and a wilderness guide recommended by Ty.
They find the site, and Walter takes samples of soil and water, hoping that back in his laboratory he will find the bacteria with the miraculous properties. After that, as promised, they take Dom to his people’s homeland north of Tetachuk Lake. But once they reach their destination, they learn too late that Dom has plans of his own.
Brief Excerpt 250 words:
Veronica left her backpack and sleeping bag in a tent, and they headed out for the dig site.
After thirty minutes of hiking past sparse birch and spruce trees in the boreal forest east of the lake, they were joined by a young woman jogging towards them from the direction they were headed.
“He’s completely uncovered now!” she began, her face flushed and the words tumbling one over the other. “Hurry up! I’ve never seen anything like—”
“He?” Veronica stopped in her tracks and glared at Anne. “You didn’t tell me you found a body!”
“We discovered him yesterday morning,” the student said with a grin. “We’ve been working ever since to dig him out.”
They hurried another ten minutes along a deep, narrow chasm between two jagged outcroppings of rock. Several squares typical of archaeological exploration had been cut into the soil beneath the carpet of moss, but they seemed for the moment to be of no interest. Two students knelt almost reverently around a two-metre-long trench dug out of the thawing permafrost soil. Professor Sutherland, standing behind them, was taking photos with a compact digital camera.
A human body lay on its back in an almost metre-deep trench, its left leg bent beneath it, arms folded across its chest, head turned slightly to the right. Though it remained caked in mud, it appeared to be a man of average height with shoulder blade-length hair, wearing the tatters of a leather shirt and trousers, and what looked like a sealskin moccasin on the visible foot.
“He’s amazing,” Veronica murmured, her heart racing and eyes glued to the emaciated body.
Why should readers buy this book (50 words max)? I truly believe this is a unique book. Science, history, and culture are rolled up in the tale of a man who shouldn’t exist and the people whose lives are affected by knowing him.
The link for purchase on Amazon.com: https://a.co/d/cSe0jQl
The link for purchase on Goodreads:
Amazon author link: https://www.amazon.com/author/donnamarie.west
Goodreads author link: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7876668.Donna_Marie_West