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Spiral: A Novel Hardcover – March 22, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

*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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; First Edition edition (March 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038534211X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385342117
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Paul McEuen, a professor of physics at Cornell, makes good use of his scientific knowledge in "Spiral," a provocative and frightening techno-thriller. The story opens in 1946, with biologist Liam Connor witnessing a horrifying scene of destruction from the deck of the USS North Dakota. Liam is a prodigy whose expertise includes "saprobic fungi, the feeders on the dead." At twenty-two, he already has an impressive résumé, having spent four years at Porton Down, "the center of British chemical and germ weapons research." Connor is dismayed to learn that the Japanese have a top-secret biological weapon derived from a species of fungus. If unleashed, this mycotoxin could cause widespread devastation. Although World War II is over, some Japanese soldiers cannot live with defeat; they are determined to strike back.

Sixty-four years pass. Liam is eighty-six, still works hard, and has a delightfully puckish sense of humor. He is a legend in his field and runs a laboratory in Cornell University, where he taught for half a century. He is a brilliant, versatile, and creative scientist who dotes on his granddaughter, Maggie, and his nine-year-old great-grandson, Dylan. Suddenly, Liam is attacked by a vicious and merciless predator. Why would someone want to destroy a Nobel Laureate who has spent his whole life sharing his knowledge with the world? The answer lies in a long-ago event that occurred on the USS North Dakota in the Pacific Ocean.

"Spiral" is fast-paced, engrossing, and greatly enhanced by fascinating technical details concerning robotics, nanotechnology, and microbiology. McEuen conveys a potent and timely message about the misguided decisions made by heads of state who crave military and political supremacy.
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I'm not a mycologist or specialist in nano-machines, so I'll believe Discover magazine's assessment that Paul McEuen's captured the details of fungal development and programmable mini-bots decently well. Those details are the most unique and well thought-out parts of Spiral. The rest, however, is strictly by the numbers: the saintly, brilliant elder scientist/mentor; the innovative engineering professor who also happens to be a tall, muscular ex-soldier with a soft spot for kids and a good-woman-shaped hole in his heart; the elder's sexy (but in a nice-girl way), tree-hugging, divorcee granddaughter; the traumatized but spunky 8-year-old boy/victim; the evil Oriental villain manipulating things from behind the scenes; and the ice-cold, hot-Asian assassin chick who's unbeatable until that becomes inconvenient to the plot. Oh, and a crazy lethal fungal plague, and a horde of the aforesaid blade-wielding microbots. Stir well, heat to pot-boiling, and the result won't surprise you a bit. The violence is a bit rough (not too lingering, but nasty), and the language is actually refreshingly clean. If only the characterization and plot had been better!
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I had Spiral recommended while I was expressing my disappointment in Michael Crichton's posthumous book Micro. It was suggested that in the realm of nanotechnology this is the book that Crichton would have wished he'd written.

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!
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This thriller has everything: non-stop action, romance, political espionage, biological weapons, nanotechnology, pulsing glow-in-the-dark fungi, and the imminent threat of a world pandemic. It will appeal to men, women, soldiers, pacifists,
jocks, nerds, and anyone leery of taking too many antibiotics.

The complex plot begins during World War II as young soldier Liam Conner saves America from Japanese biological weapons. The next time we see him, he is a seventy-five year old physics professor emeritus at Cornell, doting on his great- grandson, Dylan, and plotting romance and more between his younger coworker Jake and his granddaughter Maggie.

From there, the action doesn’t stop. Reeling from a personal tragedy, Jake, Maggie, and Dylan prove satisfyingly feisty and resourceful in defending themselves and their world from danger. But an evil genius has planned their demise with great precision and is bent on destroying America to ensure Asian world dominance.

As soon as I read the last page, I checked imdb.com (Internet Movie Database) to confirm my suspicions. Yes! This novel has been optioned for a movie. Amazingly, this is the first novel by the author. Not surprisingly, he is a physics professor at Cornell University.
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