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Spiral: A Novel Hardcover – March 22, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Set in and around the city of Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell physics professor McEuen's fiction debut successfully mixes science and suspense. When Liam Connor—an 86-year-old Cornell emeritus professor of biology, a Nobel Prize winner, and pioneer in the field of nanoscience—inexplicably jumps to his death off a bridge into one of Ithaca's gorges, the entire community is stunned, especially Connor's granddaughter, Maggie, and his academic confidant, professor Jake Sterling. But when micro-robots—silicon and metal constructs that Connor helped create—are found in his stomach, Maggie and Jake realize that he didn't commit suicide: he was tortured before being murdered. As they race to unravel cryptic messages Connor left behind, his ruthless killer plots to unleash an ingenious biological "doomsday weapon" with origins all the way back to WWII Japan. While the cutting-edge science and apocalyptic backdrop power the narrative, it's the cast of endearing characters and their interpersonal relationships and struggles that make this emotionally intense and thought-provoking novel so readable. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* It�s hard to reckon with the realization that a prominent scientist in a cutting-edge field, writing his first novel in his �spare time,� has created what may be the most gripping and engrossing thriller this reviewer has ever read in almost 50 years of thriller reading. But facts are facts, and the opinion is considered. McEuen has created an indelible hero in 85-year-old Liam Connor, a diminutive scientific giant. But Liam dies at the hands of a brilliant, merciless female assassin within the first 50 pages. He is entrancing, and McEuen�s decision to kill him off so quickly shows authorial panache. Left to unravel a complex scheme to launch the �most devastating terrorist attack in human history� are Liam�s granddaughter, her nine-year-old son, and one of Liam�s colleagues, Jake Sterling, a Cornell physicist. McEuen, also a Cornell physicist, wisely writes about what he knows�science, nanoscience, and Cornell�but also shows a true gift for plotting, pace, characterization, and writerly clarity. He mines relatively little-known history about Japan�s horrific experiments with biological weapons in WWII. He offers brief, lucid disquisitions on science; notes that a large university is the ideal place to begin a global plague; posits that �synthetic biology� will surpass silicon microelectronics as the next big technological wave; and remarkably, he makes these ideas accessible to typical thriller aficionados. A stunning achievement. --Thomas Gaughan
Top customer reviews
This novel starts aboard a Navy ship in the Pacific following WWII and sets the tone by dropping the 4th Atomic Bomb on another vessel found floundering at sea with most of the crew dead or going insane. The young hero, Liam Connor, discovers that the Japanese have discovered a biological weapon based on a fungal pathogen for which there seems to be no cure.
We next meet 80-plus Liam Connor at Cornell University where he is a professor emeritus specializing in Nanotechnology based machines that use fungus for their fuel supply. He is suspected of having kept a secret vial of the pathogen from the WWII encounter and is tortured and his family is threatened unless he parts with his long held prize. Liam escapes and commits suicide in order to hold fast the secret that could threaten the entire world if it were to fall into the wrong hands.
Enter an interesting cast of characters to uncover the mystery. His granddaughter Maggie, his University colleague Jake and his precocious great-grandson Dylan are all well written and believable in their rolls in this techno thriller.
I found the story fascinating, the writing quite good and the setting helped the overall volume become theater of the mind. I understand that this is Paul McEuen's first published novel. The fact that I can say it's better than Michael Crichton's last novel should encourage him to write more. Please Paul - we went more!
I hate it when a reviewer (or the book advertisers) make statements like "another Michael Crichton" or "Crichton readers will love this", etc., so forgive me for what I'm about to say: this guy has some important qualities I loved about Crichton; he teaches me things I didn't know, educates me without being dry or boring, but am totally enjoying and absorbing every bit. I think McEuen does it better even -- I'm really thinking of seeing if I can audit college classes on these subjects, it was so interesting. Plus, finally someone explained some concepts about gene engineering in a way I could understand (these things have been coming up in thrillers I've read for the last 20 years and I've always felt like I walked into the middle of a conversation).
I read Micro a couple of months after Spiral, and I agree with another reviewer -- Micro pales compared to Spiral. That said, Micro was pretty good, 3 1/2 stars at least, and Richard Preston was the perfect choice to finish the book.
I truly hope Paul McEuen will be writing more thrillers and I will know about it when the next one comes out -- he is on my list now.
After reading it I can now consider it one of the better science/sci-fi stories I’ve read in a long time, better than other nano thingy novels.
I have been reading science fiction since the 5th grade, and now I’m 71 and still reading it, so I know good work.
I read an article about him in Discover magazine, and it mentioned the book. Then downloaded it to my Kindle. I could hardly put it down.
I’m giving him 5 stars because I was so impressed by it.
He should write another.
I’m a retired electrical engineer and computer programmer and consider his current work to be truly inspirational. It’s surely going to be important for humanity’s future.
Most recent customer reviews
I was going to give it 5 stars but found the end too Hollywood.
It is, first, reasonably well-written for a fictional thriller, with a coherent, easy-to-read narrative.Read more
I like the combination of science and adventure.