On Writing

Where Sci meets Fi

0 Comments 12 March 2012

Last weekend I had the pleasure of reading PetroPlague, a first time thriller from Dr Amy Rogers. I came across the book through her blog, http://www.sciencethrillers.com/,a brilliant review site for all things to do with science based thrillers. Note, that is not science fiction but fictionalized science or ‘books that blend believable science and entertainment.’ This is where I first came across such terms as LabLit and SciWithFi, and is a distinction close to my own heart as readers of this blog will know. Give credit where credit is due, Amy has stuck to her guns on this point over the years and tends to restrict her reviews to science based stories and to back that up, rates all her reads twice; a general rating and a sci/med content rating. This tells the reader ‘how important scientific/medical themes are to the plot, and whether the technical details are reasonably accurate.  5 symbols means the author used plenty of technical detail and kept it real.  1 symbol means scientifically-literate readers should check their brains at the door.’

But more on PetroPlague – this is not an epidemic thriller in the genre of The Andromeda Strain or Hot Zone and more recently Steven Soderburgh’s 2011 offering, Contagion where a pathogen attacks the local population and suddenly the future of mankind hangs in the balance. No. This is way more inventive and timely than that and cuts right to the fragility of our modern day lifestyles. One that is utterly dependent on oil to power them, an addiction that shows no sign of ending, even as we slowly choke the planet and deplete the known reserves of available oil.

Against this backdrop two scientists are looking at ways to develop a type of bacteria that can help oil companies extract hard to reach oil captured in shale deep underground. We know them as tar sands for which fracking has acquired such a questionable reputation over the last few years.

At the same time some eco terrorists destroy the holding tanks in which the shale oil bacteria is being tested and unwittingly release it into the wild whereupon it gets up to all sorts of mischief including converting petrol into acetic acid and hydrogen gas, thus rendering it useless and in turn bringing LA to a literal standstill – a delicious irony not lost on this reader. As you can imagine pandemonium ensues causing the national government in DC to cordon off LA in an attempt to contain the petrol eating virus before it cripples the entire American economy.

As a non US American I found this part of the book especially appealing – it’s been an oft quoted statistic of mine that the US emits 25% of the worlds CO2 with only 10 % of the population so the thought that this could be drastically reduced over night has a somewhat macabre appeal. I’m not the only one. The eco terrorists spot an opportunity and launch a plan to release the plague worldwide without realising the full consequences of their actions. I won’t spoil it for you but needless to say Rogers segues the science into a fast paced thriller as scientists rush to find a cure for the plague which threatens not only mankinds way of life but their very existence as the very real consequences of a petroless future begins to play out in hungry LA.

Brilliant stuff. Admittedly I found some of the science impenetrable but no more than in a Crichton book – as a non scientist I didn’t have a problem with this. I understood enough to grab the premise and long past the point where some of the explanations lost me I had bought into the believability of the science so it didn’t matter. In fact it just added to the author’s credibility which is further enhanced in the Prologue where she points out where science fact meets fiction. Nice touch, I’ll have to remember that one myself.

Well done Dr Rogers. You pass both your rating reviews. A general 4 out of 5 and 5 stars for the sci content  rating.

I can’t wait for your next Sci with Fi thriller.

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Reviews of The Human Race

Unputdownable. Yes, I know it's not a word, but it definitely applies here, anyway. That's the word I'm going with, to describe The Human Race by O.C. Heaton. - Hira N. Hasnain

An outstanding first novel from O.C. Heaton that catapults him into the Best Seller league… - Justine Bond

"This is an exciting, fast-paced read. The Human Race is a book that is very easy to forget to put down. Bring on part two!" - L. H. Bowers

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Charles Heaton British thriller writer O.C. Heaton, author of The Human Race, is fascinated by the past, present and future of human evolution. (Image credit: Ross Parry Agency) Read More>>

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The BeachThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeLife of PiOuter DarkThe FirmAlexander 3: The Ends of the Earth: A Novel

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