The Bourbaki Gambit
by: Carl Djerassi
This novel, like Jurassic Park, hinges on the real-world technology incorporated in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), one of the most important breakthroughs in biomedical science. The 1993 Nobel Prize in chemistry recognized the immense significance of PCR, which is a process for quickly generating and then infinitely replicating fragments of genetic material.
An impostor takes all of the credit in Carl Djerassi's fictionalized account of PCR's discovery and development. As the scientific community eventually discovers, Professor Diana Skordylis is not really one of their own, she is four of their own--three men and a woman--who publish their collaborative work under the Skordylis pseudonym. Two of them American, one Japanese, and one Austrian, they average around sixty-five years of age. Their archetype is a famous group of French mathematicians who actually have been publishing collectively for several decades under the nom de plume of Nicolas Bourbaki.
Revenge is the Skordylis group's initial motivation. Victims of subtle age discrimination, they have all seen their research budgets and faculty privileges curtailed; two have been forcibly retired. Each Skordylis project they complete, each paper they publish under her name, is a satisfying poke at a scientific community that marginalized its senior members.
But PCR is different. It is not only their best work, it is among the best work done by any scientist in recent memory. Professional jealousy soon threatens Diana Skordylis's life, as some group members struggle with the urge to claim their share of the fame and separately seek out PCR's most innovative applications.
Djerassi writes engagingly--and from experience--about the collaborative nature at the heart of the scientific enterprise and the desire for personal recognition in the hearts of most scientists; about the graying of Western science; and about the human frailties and humanistic concerns of its practitioners.