The Cthulhu Helix
Umehara Katsufumi; Translated by Jim Hubbert
Kurodahan Press (August 31, 2023)
Reviewed by Elaine Pascale
The Cthulhu Helix is a warning of the dangers of genetic tampering, especially when science cannot fathom the creativity of nature and its hidden blueprint. The story centers around Naoki Fukao, who is an experimenter, a leader, and a military operator. At the start of the story, he is investigating the disappearance of scientists including his former lover, Tomomi Kaji. The lab cameras show eerie scenes; strange babbling or singing can be heard. Those scenes become increasingly gruesome and Fukao begins to understand that they are up against an impossible foe.
The science behind The Cthulhu Helix is that DNA is comprised of two base sequences: exons and introns. While exons make proteins, introns are basically useless. Yet, introns make up 95% of human DNA. While this may lead one to believe that humans are mostly useless (and some of us would argue in favor of that), Fukao learns that introns are not random, but are the creation of an unknown force and that it would benefit humanity if that force remained hidden.
The story makes connections to the Cthulhu Mythos and brings those concepts into modern-day genetic engineering. That said, the novel is not Lovecraftian in nature, but is more of a marriage between science fiction and contemporary action [films]. The first part of the book was originally published in Uchujin fanzine, and that part works well as a self-contained story, with a bit of an ambiguous ending.
Fukao is an interesting character. He is written in a way that suggests the stereotypical engineer: logical, pragmatic, and ordered. Yet, he has a real romantic side when he thinks of and interacts with Kaji in the beginning and later with Rina Higuchi. The novel is very scientific but also very visual; I could picture it as a blockbuster film, especially as the plot advances to a great battle meant to decide the fate of the world.
The translation by Hubbert is exceptionally smooth; a reader would not realize they were reading in English translated from Japanese. And Hubbert nails some beautiful and thought-provoking lines, such as “They say when people talk about the beautiful things in life, it’s always in the past tense.” There were moments of great eloquence mixed in with high-octane action.
The Cthulhu Helix is a definite recommendation for science fiction fans. Horror fans may prefer the first part over the rest, but there is enough suspense and action to keep a reader engaged.