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STALINS CHILDREN

3 August 2012
The novelist and former soldier SIMON CONWAY imagines what might have happened if Soviet attempts at genetic engineering had succeeded.
The nineteen-twenties, Stalin was on a crusade to turn the whole world upside down, to build it new from the ashes of Imperial Russia. He said: "I want a living war machine, a new and invincible human being, insensitive to pain and indifferent to the quality of food". The scientist tasked with achieving this goal was Professor Ilya Ivanov, a specialist in artificial insemination. He set out to create human-ape hybrids by fusing the sperm of chimpanzees with the eggs of teenage girls from the Soviet Pioneers. The attempt failed and in 1930 Ivanov was exiled to the barren steppes of Kazakhstan.

In 1995, sixty-five years later, western intelligence analysts go their first look inside the Soviet bio-weapons facility at Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan and what they found there astonished them. Stepnogorsk was the largest of a network of secret cities and production plants and centers that developed germs as weapons. It was a huge complex with forty thousand staff but it wasn't listed on any map. For the Soviet it was their equivalent of the Manhattan project – the American program that produced the atomic bomb – but by the mid-nineties the base was in a terrible state of disrepair. However inspectors did see evidence of a top-secret KGB Directorate S programme called “Progress” that had been hidden within the Bio-weapons program, like a doll with a doll. The man responsible for “Progress” was Alexander Ilyanovich Markoff, grandson of the disgraced scientist Ilya Ivanov. The grandson had succeeded where his predecessor had failed, using specially adapted viruses to insert combinations of human genes into ape embryos. He had created baboon/human variants by mixing human genes with those of the Hamadryas baboon, the most violent of all the primates; and created bonobo/humans variants using the genes of the bonobo chimpanzee, the most sexually promiscuous of the apes. Markoff’s vision was of thousands of cloned bonobo variants for the People's Pleasure Palaces and hundreds of thousands of cloned baboon variants for the People's Army.

“Progress” did not survive the anarchy that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Markoff and a few of his test subjects fled to the Caucasus Mountains, where they remained hidden until the 2008 Russian/Georgia war.

Threatened by the Russian military and the Russian mob, Markoff turned in desperation to the Americans and offered his services to the Department of Defense. He became the chief scientist for the Pentagon’s three billion dollar “metabolically dominant soldier” programme.

As a huge snowstorm engulfs Washington DC in early 2010, a late night jogger in Rock Creek Park discovers the brutally beaten body of a once beautiful young woman. She is lying just yards from the palatial home of Senator John Cannon - one of the most powerful and wealthy men in America.

There is something not right about the dead woman.

Uncovering the answer to her identity will lead homicide detective Michael Freeman into a nightmarish realm where big business, organized crime and the hidden parts of government vie for control.
Simon Conway's latest novel Rock Creek Park was published on 2 August 2012.

 

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