The opening of Paul McEuen's freshman novel Spiral throws you a bit. It hits you hard with guns blazing, WWII soldiers fighting for their lives, explosions, and lots of blood and twitching body parts flying around. He reminds you right away just how high the stakes are in this tale of biological warfare and international intrigue. Yet as soon as the action returns to the present day, Spiral proves to be a whole different kind of story. Dr. Liam Conner, who witnessed the original WWII drama, has become a kindly old, respected professor of nanscience and a doting great-grandfather. His brilliant granddaughter is a slow track mom who puts her family relationships above all else. For all its grand apocalyptic themes, this is a surprisingly intimate narrative full of beautifully written characters and personal interactions tied together around our main protagonist Jake Sterling. It's the literary equivalent of a good date movie. Sure it’s got gene splicing, slimy killer fungus, high-stakes chases, and some really cool killer nanobots; however, it also ties all of this around a group of well-written characters you really become invested in.
Rob Shapiro's narration is smooth, polished, and nicely balanced. His deep voice carries the suspense well, especially in the parts where a grisly death could await around every corner. Yet he shows a lot of sensitivity portraying the various relationships as well. He reminds you that a really good narrator tends to blend seamlessly into the background in the service of the story telling. It's not so much the screams and explosions that get to you here; it’s the whisper in your ear that raises the hair on the back of your neck.
"Fungus Amungus" is a rallying cry that carries throughout the story, and also underlies the key threat. How do you escape something so deadly, so pervasive, as a weaponized fungus spore? It can be in every nook and cranny, every breath we take. It's also the ultimate mindless killer, so it's not really the fungus here that's the monster. It's the people who would mastermind its deadly potential. Cleo Creech
In this riveting debut thriller by one of the leading researchers in nanoscience, the race is on to stop the devastating proliferation of the ultimate bioweapon.
When Nobel laureate Liam Connor is found dead at the bottom of one of Ithaca, New York’s famous gorges, his research collaborator, Cornell professor of nanoscience Jake Sterling, refuses to believe it was suicide. Why would one of the world’s most eminent biologists, a 86-year old man in good health who survived some of the darkest days of the Second World War, have chosen to throw himself off a bridge? And who was the mysterious woman caught on camera at the scene? Soon it becomes clear that a cache of supersophisticated nanorobots—each the size of a spider—has disappeared from the dead man’s laboratory.
Stunned by grief, Jake, Liam’s granddaughter, Maggie, and Maggie’s nine-year-old son, Dylan, try to put the pieces together. They uncover ingeniously coded messages Liam left behind pointing toward a devastating secret he gleaned off the shores of war-ravaged Japan and carried for more than 60 years.
What begins as a quest for answers soon leads to a horrifying series of revelations at the crossroads of biological warfare and nanoscience. At this dangerous intersection, a skilled and sadistic assassin, an infamous Japanese war criminal, and a ruthless U.S. government official are all players in a harrowing game of power, treachery, and intrigue—a game whose winner will hold the world’s fate literally in the palm of his hand.
©2011 Paul McEuen (P)2011 Random House
The plot is contrived and completely implausible. I could not suspend my disbelief at all. The characters have no personality - the character of the scientist is that he's Irish. That's it.
He did an excellent job of narrating. I just wish he had something better to work with.
The book seems very amateurish. More like a self-published novel than a novel that has been selected by actual editors.
Good science fiction is hard to find. Too much of the genre has been contaminated by fantasy. I like to read a book where I understand the laws of physics (or at least most of them). This book proposes some plausible scientific developments and weaves a skillful thriller story around them. The setting for the book comes from McEuen's home town of Ithaca, NY and the surrounding area. This area has enough interesting features that the author did not have to invent any.
I'm waiting for McEuen's next book.
Just finished Spiral, Paul McEuens first novel, and can't wait until his next one!! Excellent techno-thriller with something for everyone.... Political intrigue; Explosions; History; Murders; Sword play; Love; Romance; Evil vixen; Revenge; Mutant fungus; A Boy and his dog....
Light and easy read, however full character development and action packed.
Worth a credit and you won't be disappointed.
This is a great beach (or gym) book. I was hooked from the first 10 minutes and the pace did not let up. I agree with the NY Times review that compared McEuen to Crichton in his prime (e.g., Andromeda Strain).
The initial premise of this book was intriguing and then the author ran out of ideas...and we moved into absurdity. At a certain point, I was just plodding along disappointed that the early ideas did not pan out. The weak plot and weak characterisations were tedious and the constant references to Cornell were yawn worthy- after thisI have no desire to visit Ithaca (although I have to admit it was not on my bucket list).
It seems odd that so many people enthusiastically embraced this book.It appears to have been written by an academic author convinced he could write good fiction, and he can't-he should stick with academic articles; he has important contributions to make to his area of expertise, but not to fiction.
A lot of sterling reviews for this book and I guess for the genre it is well done. The scientific background and information was certainly interesting but the story, sadly, was predictable. Well read, though, by Rob Shapiro who handles the accents well.
I liked the characters in this story, I liked the narration, the action is fast and the story is well written. The science is fun and the author brings it to the reader in an enjoyable and accurate fashion. The story does remind one of crichtons but the author has his own style and the reviews that pan this book as not standing up to Michael C's almost had me passing on this book, that would have been a mistake as this is a good book it is well written and fun and worth your time, this author has his own style and deserves to be read.
Great book. Makes you think, teaches you things you never knew about history, teaches you about aspects of science you probably never thought about, all this without boring you and keeping you excited by a great story, fun action, interesting characters, and many twists.
Too much science and too little character and plot development made this more work than pleasure. The narrator tried to make up for it with melodrama but overdid it.
I'll admit up front that there were a few times I thought the pace lagged a bit. McEuen spent a lot of time developing interesting and intriguing characters, and in the process the plot slowed.
On the other hand though, I became attached to the characters. Well developed and interesting, the list of characters was kept short leaving plenty of time to get to know each character well. The killer mold threat (a character in it's own right) and the way it was presented was a unique take on bio-terrorism that is hard to find in today's thrillers.
Fans of science based thrillers should give this one a listen. You won't find quite as many explosions and violence as you might see in a Tom Clancy novel, but there is enough intrigue to make it thrilling.
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