ScienceThrillers welcomes author Lisa von Biela, who creates science-themed “dark fiction.” Ideas for Lisa’s thrillers originate in her science/technical legal work. She resides in Seattle but went to school in Minnesota–always a bonus with me!
Technothriller plots based on real science
by Lisa von Biela
Thank you, Amy, for inviting me and to those of you reading this!
I have a confession to make. Scientific advances amaze me—and they also terrify me. We can achieve so much good, yet we also have the power to either deliberately misuse science, or create havoc with an innocent error. And this is precisely what drives me to write the novels I do. I try to both entertain and explore the more serious “what if” issues raised by various scientific advances.
I base my novels on real science, though I admit to taking some liberties for plot purposes. I believe it’s crucial to have at least the underpinnings of real science to explore the issues I do with some degree of authenticity. Despite the liberties I take, some of the technologies in my books have either become reality, or are threatening to do so!
For example, I completed the manuscript for my debut novel, The Genesis Code, back in 2006. The novel focused on the development and secret implementation of a tiny subcutaneous chip implanted close to the brain. Ostensibly, the device would be used to download benign items such as training manuals and technical documents. But…Dr. Josh Tyler intended to make it capable of two-way transmission and alteration of memories. The novel was published in 2013, and in the intervening time, DARPA has begun experimenting with a similar device in the brains of soldiers to try to alter memories contributing to PTSD.
I take a few more liberties with current real science in The Janus Legacy, in which Dr. Jeremy Magnusson inherits SomaGene, his estranged father’s biotech business. SomaGene cultivates individual autologous transplant organs in vitro for its clients, and then performs the transplant surgery in its rather high-tech facility. This technology might not be that far off. But before his death, Jeremy’s father had also developed a full human clone in the hopes that Jeremy could harvest the intestines to cure his severe Crohn’s disease. Jeremy faces all manner of ethical issues in deciding what to do with the sentient clone. Notably, several of my readers who actually have Crohn’s have commented that I captured life with the disease quite realistically.
My next novel, Blockbuster, is due out in January. For this one, the real-life timeline for drug development created a tremendous hurdle for the plot. So I set it 10 years in the future and “invented” various items of lab equipment that speed up the drug development process and eliminate the need for human studies. I also “created” new versions of everyday technologies, like phones and portable computers, as well as special hospital equipment like disposable standalone isolation units. In Blockbuster’s world, the MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a deadly infection) we know is a thing of the past, and considered to be pretty mild. BigPharma companies are doing whatever it takes to capture market share—including creating a bacteria far worse and more contagious than MRSA—as well as the antibiotic that cures it. This is Denali Labs’ business model, and when its main competitor, Horton Drugs, tries to follow in the same path, things get out of control. Way out of control. I hope this isn’t really happening.
I’m not a practicing scientist, though I do have a scientific background. I majored in Biology at UCLA (I was pre-vet then). My life took a different turn, landing me in IT for 25 years before I dropped out to attend law school. I became active in the American Bar Association’s SciTech section and published a weekly newsletter on scientific/legal developments called the BioBlurb while I was in school. After graduation, I joined the editorial board of The SciTech Lawyer, a quarterly ABA publication. I still serve on the board and co-edit issues in rotation. When I was publishing the BioBlurb, I couldn’t resist making editorial remarks about the articles I’d cited (readers loved my snarky comments!)—and also thinking of all the novel fodder that was passing before my eyes. I had no time to write during law school, but am making up for that now.
You can check out more of my background and work at www.lisavonbiela.com. Thanks for reading!