I am pleased to announce the release of my third science thriller novel, The Han Agent. The book has gotten some rave reviews from early readers, and I’m so excited to share this book with you, the ScienceThrillers.com audience, for whom it was written. Please buy the book or request it from your local library this week. Let’s get a story with real science into the bestseller lists!
The Han Agent by Amy Rogers. Science thriller (September 5, 2017)
In the 1930s, Japanese scientists committed heinous crimes in their quest for the ultimate biological weapon.
The war ended. Their mission did not.
Eighty years later, Japanese-American scientist Amika Nakamura won’t let rules stand between her and scientific glory. When the ambitious young virologist defies a ban on the genetic manipulation of influenza, she’s expelled from the university. Desperate to save her career, she accepts a position with a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. Soon after, a visit to a disputed island entangles her in a high-profile geopolitical struggle between Japan and China. Applying her singular expertise with bird flu in a risky experiment may be the only way out. Little does she know that Japanese ultranationalists and a legacy of unpunished war crimes lurk in the shadows, manipulating people, politics, and science.
But DNA doesn’t lie. Amika uncovers a shocking truth: a deadly virus is about to put the “gene” in genocide.
Advance praise for The Han Agent by Amy Rogers, founder of ScienceThrillers.com
“…as exciting as it is frighteningly realistic. It could be tomorrow’s headline.”—James Rollins, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Sobering, suspenseful, and absolutely chilling.”—Barry Lancet, award-winning author of Japantown and Tokyo Kill
“The Han Agent is a surefire genre hit, fast-paced and full of elements of mystery and adventure.”—Foreword Reviews magazine
“This pressure cooker of a thriller portrays with chilling realism how individuals can use specialized scientific knowledge for good or evil.”—J.E. Fishman, bestselling author of Primacy and the Bomb Squad NYC series Click here for links to all other retailers. Click here for bulk purchases from publisher.
Get answers to all your cooking science questions, and cook tastier, more nutritious food using fundamental principles, practical advice, and step-by-step techniques.
Where does the heat come from in a chili pepper? Why is wild salmon darker than farmed? Does searing meat really “seal in” the juices? A good recipe goes a long way, but if you can master the science behind it, you’ll be one step ahead.
Using full-color images, stats and facts through infographics, and an engaging Q&A format to show you how to perfect your cooking, The Science of Cooking brings food science out of the lab and into your kitchen. Topics include meat and poultry, seafood, dairy, pulses and grains, fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, baked goods, and more, making it perfect for perfecting everyday cooking as well as for special meals.
I love science. I love food. And even if I don’t “love” to cook, I cook a lot, and I love to do it well. So call me the ideal audience for Dorling Kindersley (DK) Publishing’s new book The Science of Cooking: Every question answered to give you the edge, written by British sci-comm polymath Dr. Stuart Farrimond.
I’ve been a fan of DK Books since my kids were young, when every trip to the public library sent us home with at least one of this British publisher’s beautiful, content-rich books. You want to flip through a DK book, with the gorgeous photographic page layouts. Content is secondary to the images, delivered in small nibbles rather than lengthy passages. These are not textbooks.
Farrimond’s Science of Cooking fits this mold, though with more text than many of DK’s children’s books. This food book is a feast for the eyes. Food photography, infographics, and diagrams are a delight to look at. I read an ebook version and desperately wished I was holding the print copy. Page designs are varied and often span a full spread across the spine of the book. Content is structured by food category. There are chapters on kitchen tools; meat/poultry; fish/seafood; eggs/dairy; rice/grains/pasta; vegetables/fruits/nuts/seeds; herbs/spices/oils/flavorings; baking/sweet things.
Information is largely conveyed as answers to interesting questions and “culinary conundrums, drawing on the latest research to give meaningful and practical answers.” In other words, you won’t find recipes per se in this book, but you’ll find useful information with mildly scientific explanations as rationale. (If you want serious biochemistry, look elsewhere.) Call it applied trivia. “Does adding salt to water make vegetables cook faster?” “How do I cook fish to have crispy skin?” “Why exactly is quinoa so special?” (I’m totally going to try this: “Quinoa can be popped like popcorn if you dry roast it, turning it into a crunchy topping for soups and breakfast cereals.”) Did you know that leaving mushrooms in the sun increases their content of vitamin D?
I enjoyed reading this book cover-to-cover and it prompted me to make a couple of concrete changes in my cooking (for example, I bought peanut oil for high-heat stirfry, something I did not use previously). By itself, the section on eggs is worth buying the book.
Any review of a book called The Science of Cooking should make at least some comparison to the gold standard in this category, Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. While both of these books cover the same subject area, they do not compete with each other. McGee’s book is a 900-page tome with an occasional black-and-white illustration and encyclopedic coverage. (McGee has two pages of text just on unheated preparations of fish. You won’t find kinilaw in the DK book.) Farrimond’s version is more fun, more digestible, more applied, and of course more photogenic. My only complaint in comparison is that Farrimond’s book targets a general audience and often simplifies the actual science in its explanations. McGee is less afraid of alienating the non-technical reader.
The only problem with The Science of Cooking is niche. It’s really a cross-genre book that doesn’t fit cleanly into any one bookstore shelf category. It’s a science book, but not hard science or narrative nonfiction. It’s a cookbook, but doesn’t have traditional recipes. It’s a tome of beautiful photography, but lacks the heft of a coffee table book. Personally I’d file it under how-to: Science of Cooking is practical and illustrative.
DK’s The Science of Cooking by Dr. Stuart Farrimond is a visually appealing food book that answers practical questions with a scientific rationale for why cooks should do what they do. Home chefs are guaranteed to find at least one useful gem that they can apply to their everyday shopping and food preparation. A lovely gift for the amateur cook with a scientific bent. –ScienceThrillers.com
About the Author:
Dr. Stuart Farrimond is a science and medical writer, presenter and educator. As a trained medical doctor and qualified teacher, he passionately communicates science and health sciences; seeking to inspire and engage others about these topics which are all too easily seen as stuffy and irrelevant. Learn more about his many sci-comm activities at StuartFarrimond.com.
Thank you Netgalley and publisher for providing free advance e-copy of this book for possible review.
ScienceThrillers.com welcomes author Dennis Meredith, whose author of several science thrillers whose next book The Neuromorphs is seeking nominations on Kindle Scout for one more day. Nominate it today and get a free ebook when it’s published!
The Neuromorphs summary: In 2050, self-learning Helper androids have become benign, invaluable aids to humans. That is, until Russian mobsters hack the operating systems of Helpers of ultra-wealthy owners…
How to Make Plot Ideas Pop Into Your Head
Guest post by Dennis Meredith
Novelists are often asked how they get their plot ideas, and I get plots for my science thrillers to pop into my noggin from extensive reading about science and technology. Sometimes the idea will come before any research, often as little more than a phrase or sentence. I’ve found “What if…?” questions to be the most fruitful.
My first published novel, The Cerulean’s Secret, arose from the simple question “What if there was a blue cat?” The notion nagged and nagged at me, until I started spinning a plot around it. I realized the plot had to revolve around genetic engineering, so I began doing research, coming up with lots of articles that helped form the plot. As with all my novels, I included a list of those sources on my web site.
Sometimes, it won’t be a “What if…?” question that sparks a plot, but passages in articles I’ve read.
For example, the idea for The Neuromorphs arose from two quotes. In 2014, Science magazine quoted computer researcher Todd Hylton as saying “We think robotics is the killer app for neuromorphic computing.” Of course, Hylton didn’t literally mean killer robots, but the idea stayed in my head that the kind of robots based on brain-like neuromorphic circuitry could somehow become lethal.
The kicker that really launched the plot was a chilling passage from an article on artificial intelligence by Jason Tanz in Wired magazine:
“With machine learning, the engineer never knows precisely how the computer accomplishes its tasks. The neural network’s operations are largely opaque and inscrutable. It is, in other words, a black box. And as these black boxes assume responsibility for more and more of our daily digital tasks, they are not only going to change our relationship with technology—they are going to change how we think about ourselves, our world, and our place within it.”
Of course, I needed a plot to go with those ideas, so I decided on a theme that no safeguards against artificially intelligent robots escaping control could protect against human greed and depravity. I found lots of good resources to help formulate a plot to support that theme.
In that plot, Russian mobsters bribe the chief programmer of a company that makes lifelike androids to alter the operating systems of androids belonging to wealthy people. Those androids would then kill their owners, be re-engineered to mimic them, take their place, and loot their wealth for the mobsters.
Sometimes, though, it won’t be articles I’ve read, but technology-related experiences that trigger a plot idea. The plot for my latest novel, The Happy Chip, arose when I realized how extensively companies like Facebook and Google were compiling data on my personal habits. That data, I realized, could evolve into a form of control. I wondered “What if people could have chips implanted that would give them data on themselves?” From there, the plot evolved in which corrupt company executives transform data chips into control chips.
My plot-conceiving technique has worked incredibly well. I now have 20 novel plots lined up and more coming. Now, I just have to write the books!
About the Author:
Dennis Meredith’s career as a science communicator has included service at some of the country’s leading research universities, including MIT, Caltech, Cornell, Duke and the Universities of Rhode Island and Wisconsin. He has worked with science journalists at all the nation’s major newspapers, magazines, and radio and TV networks and has written well over a thousand news releases and magazine articles on science and engineering over his career. He has served on the executive board of the National Association of Science Writers and is a contributor to its magazine ScienceWriters.
Author’s website: dennismeredith.com His latest release is The Happy Chip. Science fiction thriller (April 2017)
You feel ecstatic! Until you kill yourself.
The Happy Chip is the latest nanoengineering wonder from the high-flying tech company, NeoHappy, Inc.
Hundreds of millions of people have had the revolutionary nanochip injected into their bodies, to monitor their hormonal happiness and guide them to life choices, from foods to sex partners.Given the nanochip’s stunning success, struggling science writer Brad Davis is thrilled when he is hired to co-author the biography of its inventor, billionaire tech genius Marty Fallon.
That is, until Davis learns that rogue company scientists are secretly testing horrifying new control chips with “side effects”–suicidal depression, uncontrollable lust, murderous rage, remote-controlled death, and ultimately, global subjugation.
His discovery threatens not only his life, but that of his wife Annie and their children. Only with the help of Russian master hacker Gregor Kalinsky and his gang can they hope to survive the perilous adventure that takes them from Boston to Beijing.
Support ScienceThrillers.com and the author by ordering The Happy Chip at amazon.com
ScienceThrillers.com welcomes author Robert Reiss writing as James Abel. Abel’s series of science thrillers about Joe Rush, a military bio-terror expert, is now at book #4. If you haven’t discovered these yet, now is the time!
Vector by James Abel. Science/medical thriller (paperback released July 25, 2017)
Joe Rush takes on a new terror, spawned in the Amazon rain forest, that threatens to bring the world to its knees in James Abel’s latest bio-thriller.
While studying new forms of malaria at an Amazon gold rush, Joe Rush’s best friend and partner, Eddie Nakamura, disappears. Learning that many of the sick miners have also vanished, Rush begins a search for Eddie that takes him into the heart of darkness–where while battling for his life, he discovers a secret that may change the world.
Thousands of miles away, sick people are starting to flood into U.S. hospitals. When the White House admits that it has received terrorist threats, cities across the Northeast begin to shut down. Rush and his team must journey from one of the most remote spots on Earth to one of the busiest, as the clock ticks toward a kind of annihilation not thought possible. They have even less time than they think to solve the mystery, for the danger–as bad as it is–is about to get even worse.
Support ScienceThrillers.com and the author by ordering Vector at amazon.com
Truth about emerging diseases makes compelling fiction
Guest post by James Abel, author of Vector
VECTOR took over 25 years in the making, and combines my experiences covering science and climate change as a journalist and non-fiction author…and a horrifying “what if” that I learned about along the way. I think that one reason I invented my hero – former Marine bio-terror expert Joe Rush – is that he epitomizes that mix of real world and hard fact, and what may happen next.
In the real world I covered a gold rush deep in the Amazon, where I saw men suffering from terrible new forms of malaria. I also visited Fort Detrich, Maryland, where the Army disease labs are located. At Harvard University I interviewed experts familiar with mosquito biology…and at NYU, I talked to researchers who told me the history of the way that certain mutations in nature made famous disease (black plague, for instance) much worse.
As a fiction writer of 18 books I often deal with what if? What if this happened now? What if certain people intentionally designed a new kind of VECTOR, to carry a new kind of illness, a real one, deep in the Amazon. How would they do it? How would they spread it? How would you track it down and understand it and hopefully fight it as a clock ticks and the danger spreads…and that is what became VECTOR.
Joe Rush is an fictional individual with loves and hates, friends and lovers, but he is also a living embodiment of what we really know about illness, what we wish we knew, what we fear can happen, and how we’d fight it if if did happen. The weapons we will face in the future will always be different from the ones we have faced in the past.
About the Author:
James Abel is the pseudonym for Bob Reiss, an accomplished author and journalist who has written extensively about trouble spots and exotic locations around the world, including the Arctic, Somalia, and the Amazon rain forest. He is the author of the Joe Rush novels, including Cold Silence, Protocol Zero,and White Plague. Abel lives and works in New York City.
Protocol by Kathleen Valenti. Medical mystery/thriller (September 5, 2017)
Freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley embarks on a career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.
With help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.
Support ScienceThrillers.com and the author by pre-ordering Protocol at amazon.com
What’s a Girl Like Me Doing with a Book Like This?
Guest post by Kathleen Valenti, author of Protocol
When I was in my early 20s, I accompanied a youth group to France as an interpreter. It was the perfect opportunity to put my years of high school and college French to good use (there aren’t many French-speakers in my Oregon hometown), and it provided me the chance to experience the cultural riches of a country I’d always wanted to visit.
One of the biggest highlights of the trip wasn’t shopping along des Champs Élysées or seeing the Eiffel Tower at night or visiting Paris’ most famous museums. It was the moment when a bank teller thought I was French.
I had arrived.
I had the same feeling at Malice Domestic when early readers of PROTOCOL asked about my job as a pharmaceutical researcher.
I almost spewed coffee from my nose.
Me? A pharmaceutical researcher?
I was the English major who prayed her way through chemistry and scarcely knew the difference between aspirin and Tylenol.
I was beyond flattered.
The question suggested that I had successfully impersonated a pharmaceutical professional and had channeled the role into my book and protagonist.
To what could I attribute this masquerade? How did I cover a subject with which I had no practical experience? How had I gone against the commandment of Thou Shalt Write What Ye Knows so boldly, so shamelessly?
One word: research.
Followed by three words: lots of it.
I knew I wanted to write about the world of pharmaceuticals because it’s replete with storytelling—and mystery-spinning—opportunities. I began with that great font of information, Google, to learn the basics of how drugs are developed and brought to market.
Spoiler alert: it wasn’t enough.
Fortunately, I have a friend whose husband works for an international pharmaceutical company—Big Pharma, just like in my book. With this friend’s help, I learned the ins and outs of pharmaceutical research and development. The science behind discovery. Assays. Testing. Review processes. And, yes, protocols.
I also gleaned a great deal about what it’s like to work in this rarefied world. The pressure’s intense. So are many of the people who work there. And although there are many joys to be found in work dedicated to bettering the human experience, there are challenges that go beyond the scientific method.
Some of those challenges make for good mystery fodder.
PROTOCOL focuses on the linchpin between science and commerce, progress and profit margins. Because seventy percent of us rely on some kind of medication for our health and well-being, it’s a topic that touches many lives. Small wonder prescription costs, benefits and oversight make headlines.
The upshot of this pharmaceutical crash-course was that it opened the door to a subject area rich with possibility. I still have much to learn, and that’s okay. I’ve discovered that research is the prescription for the curious— one that needs constant refilling.
About the Author:
When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Protocol is her debut novel and the first of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series.
ScienceThrillers.com welcomes author Larry Constantine, who got my attention with the blurb from legendary DNA scientist George Church for his upcoming new release The Intaglio Imprint. The book delves into bioethics and reproductive cloning. Constantine writes under the pen name Lior Samson and has created (to date) ten science-tinged thrillers. It’s about time we got him here for a guest post!
The Intaglio Imprint by Lior Samson. Science thriller (September 1, 2017)
Dan Bradman, a reporter with a leading European financial newspaper, is trying to uncover the complicated truth about the estate of Arturo Dermott, a recluse and one of the world’s richest, most prolific inventors. A handwritten note found in an archive in Rome turns a routine assignment into a convoluted quest. He and Italian archivist Francesca Zingari are launched on a dangerous detour that leads to unlikely informants in Valencia, to secret labs in China, and to a young man growing up in Boston who struggles to understand and come to terms with an invisible past that sets him apart. He is not who he thinks he is, but neither is he the person those around him think he is.
Support ScienceThrillers.com and the author by pre-ordering The Intaglio Imprint at amazon.com
“If Geneticist George Church Likes Your Book…”
Guest post by author Larry Constantine
Getting the science right is a goal of any worthy writer, but it is not always easy, especially when background research takes you far afield or to the edges of current scientific capabilities. Under my pen name Lior Samson, I write provocative page-turners that I hope leave readers pondering what they have read. To get the details right, I draw on subject-matter experts to review manuscripts.
If genetic engineering and cloning are pivotal to your story line, it would be hard to find a better subject-matter expert than Harvard geneticist George Church. A contributor to the development of the CRISPR-cas9 gene editing technique that has revolutionized genetic manipulation, Church is a science superstar who keeps popping up in mainstream media. Among projects his lab is pursuing is developing a line of cloned “humanized” pigs whose organs could be harvested and transplanted to people without triggering a destructive immune response. He is also collaborating in “de-extinction” research to bring back the wooly mammoth.
I met Church at a panel discussion on the ethics and morality of human genetic engineering. We started a dialogue, and he offered to read and give feedback on the new Lior Samson thriller, The Intaglio Imprint. He loved it and wrote the following cover blurb.
My perch provides a unique view to attest to the super-realism and compelling rationale of this ethically probing tale, … which resonates with my experience as member of a team producing pig clones to save lives via transplantation. … [The title] could not be a more powerful and apt metaphor — when a strand of DNA is copied you get a complementary molecule, not a copy. I recommend … this intricate and incisive creation.
The Intaglio Imprint is a multilayered story—part science fiction, part suspense—a story of love, loss, and legacy that takes a penetrating plunge into the ethical complexities of modern genetic science. It begins with an accidental discovery by a financial reporter trying to sort out the complicated truth about the estate of a reclusive—and very rich—inventor. He and a companion are launched on a dangerous detour that leads to unlikely informants in Valencia, to secret labs in China and South Korea, and to a young man growing up in Boston who struggles to understand and come to terms with who he is and what sets him apart from his peers.
The endorsement by Church reassured me that the science and the story are a good fit. The science of genetic engineering and reproductive cloning has come a long way since the birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996, the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell, but the basic techniques are still much the same. Genetic material is extracted from an adult cell, either an adult somatic cell or one with induced pluripotency, the ability to give rise to a full variety of tissue types. This genetic material is inserted into an egg from which the original genetic material has been removed. This egg is then tricked into thinking it has been fertilized so that it begins to divide into a multi-celled blastocyst. The blastocyst is implanted into the uterus of a surrogate, where, if all goes well, it grows into a fetus and eventually into a viable new organism..
That’s the idea. In reality, the process is not yet fully understood nor fully reproducible, and many of the embryos fail to develop properly. Out of the 277 fertilized eggs and 29 implanted embryos in that first research, only Dolly survived to adulthood. Many cloned embryos turn out to have defects of one kind or another that result in spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, or early death. The yield has been improved in some cases, but the results are still far from perfect. And that may be the biggest technical barrier to human cloning.
Research on human reproductive cloning itself is not actually permitted anywhere in the world today. Still, every step forward in cloning other mammals—whether sheep, dogs, or pigs—or in therapeutic cloning to create human cell cultures and organs for transplant, is a potential advance toward human cloning. From the science we know, there do not appear to be fundamental biological barriers to human reproductive cloning, but deeper questions remain: Should such research ever be undertaken? At what price and with what consequences?
About the Author:
Larry Constantine is an award-winning journalist and author who writes fiction under his pen name, Lior Samson. His tenth novel, The Intaglio Imprint, to be released in September 2017, is available for pre-order on Amazon. His previous books include a double-novel about radical life-extension, The Rosen Singularity – The Millicent Factor, and the six science-and-technology infused novels of The Homeland Connection: Bashert, The Dome, Web Games, Chipset, Gasline, and Flight Track. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Publication date: June 2017 Category: literary suspense / man vs nature action
Summary (from the publisher):
Ed and his childhood friend Danny are gearing up in Kodiak, Alaska, preparing to join the Angie Piper’s crew for another season of crab fishing. Ed is a relative newcomer, but despite the perils of the trade, he sees no reason to fear for Danny’s safety. The Angie Piper has always been blessed. She has a stalwart captain, Fred, a crack engineer, Dave, and two time-tested pros to keep the rest of the operation running smoothly, exuberant Loni and the more reticent Salazar.
Every season has a greenhorn, the one who works for a pittance in order to learn the ropes. This time around it is Ed’s friend Danny, no ordinary crewman. Their shared history is complex. Though strong, brave, and hardworking, Danny is a simple soul, and Ed is weighed down by guilt, dark memories of the many times he failed to defend his friend against the inevitable bullying. And cantankerous Dave believes Danny is a bad omen, so much so that his bitter opposition may endanger them all.
The season starts off strong, and the crew is elated by the bounty of their catch. Then their luck turns. The skies grow dark, the waves swell, and Mother Nature bears down on them with her full arsenal. When the storm finally abates, who will live to tell the tale?
A family vacation to Alaska is on my horizon later this summer, so it’s fitting that I read The Sinking of the Angie Piper by Chris Riley.
On that trip I think I’ll stick close to shore.
Riley, a Sacramento-based writer like myself, creates a richly textured backdrop of Alaskan fishing culture against which he tells the tale of the Angie Piper and her crew of commercial crab fishermen working the Gulf of Alaska in winter. Narrator Edward Thurman, a young but not novice member of the crew, has brought his best friend Danny Wilson aboard as the ship’s greenhorn (new crewman)–an act met by the derision of one of the crew, because Danny has Down Syndrome. The reader gets into the ship’s rhythm of hard work and recovery amid terrible cold on the unforgiving sea, feeling the icy spray and alternating ecstasy and weariness of the men.
Then the weather changes.
Grievances and regrets fall away amid an escalating struggle to survive. Author Chris Riley steadily raises the stakes, pushing you to turn the pages toward a satisfying conclusion.
This book does an amazing job of transporting the reader to a distant and strange world on the crabbing vessel which feels totally real. Author Riley has personal experience as an educator working with Down’s kids, which shows in his tender but never maudlin portrayal of Danny. As narrator Ed learns to see that there is more to Danny than he thought, so does the reader.
The Sinking of the Angie Piper is a superb short novel that blends the best of literary and suspense fiction with dramatic themes of man vs himself and man vs nature, with redemption in the end.
Chris Riley got his start writing short stories, and he has written many. His focus is science fiction, horror, and weird/strange stories. Many have been published; explore his work here.
I read an advance copy of this book which I received for free from the author.
International Thriller Writers’ monthly magazine THE BIG THRILL features the new young adult science fiction release from my good friend Mark Alpert. THE SILENCE is book 3 in his trilogy (which began with THE SIX, reviewed by ScienceThrillers here) about teenagers dying of fatal diseases whose lives are preserved by turning into robots. Great fun, plenty of action for reluctant readers, all based in real science that goes speculative.
If a decade of writing science thrillers has dulled Mark Alpert’s enthusiasm for his craft, you certainly can’t tell it from speaking with him. When he talks about his latest release, THE SILENCE, Alpert doesn’t offer any of the rehearsed answers to which popular novelists sometimes default. Instead, he gives an enthusiastic crash course in brain science, nanotechnology, and gene editing—not to mention the alchemy of splicing those lofty ideas into fast-paced, intensely readable thrillers.
Alpert, a self-described “lifelong science geek,” spent years oscillating between the worlds of science and writing before he settled into a career that combined the two disciplines. He holds a degree in astrophysics from Princeton, and another in poetry from Columbia University. He worked as a reporter for newspapers and magazines before becoming an editor at Scientific American in 1998; ten years later he published his first novel, 2008’s Final Theory.
This month finds Alpert wrapping up his first sojourn into yet another world: young adult literature. Alpert’s third YA thriller, THE SILENCE, hits bookstores on July 4 from Sourcebooks Fire. It’s the final installment in a trilogy that began with The Six in 2015 and continued last year with The Siege. (If you missed those first entries, you’re in luck; the publisher released paperback reissues of both volumes in June.)
Like many writers, Alpert credits his kids, and their reading habits, with pulling him into the realm of YA fiction. “I have a 17-year-old boy who’s going off to college in the fall and a 15-year-old girl who’s a sophomore in high school,” he says. “My daughter’s a big reader; my son, a little less so. But when he found a series he liked, he really devoured it. He loved the Maze Runner series and a couple of others. I thought, well, I’ll try to write a series sort of like that, and I’ll make it a science thriller, like my books for adults.”
The result was The Six, a sci-fi actioner about six terminally ill teenagers who participate in an experimental U.S. Army program that uploads their minds into sophisticated, combat-ready robots. Like most of Alpert’s adult fiction, the story can be traced back to his days as a science editor.
“When I was at Scientific American, I would often write or edit stories about robots,” Alpert remembers. “Companies would send their latest robot to the magazine so we could test it out. And then I’d also read The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil, and that’s kind of a cool, freaky idea—that you could somehow record everything in your mind. If you could actually figure out how the brain works and how it encodes your thoughts, theoretically it’s possible to record all that information and then put it in digital form and put it in a robot. It’s a kind of technological immortality. And so I thought, wow, if I was gonna write a book with teenage protagonists, it would be interesting if maybe they were the first ones to make that leap from human to robot.”
The trilogy centers on Adam Armstrong, a sports-loving boy forced into a wheelchair at the age of twelve by muscular dystrophy. By the time he’s 17, Adam’s disease has advanced to the terminal stage; to save his life, Adam’s scientist father uses experimental brain-imaging technology to scan the teen’s brain and transfer his consciousness to a nine-foot war machine.
The setup might sound farfetched given the trilogy’s contemporary setting, but the human-to-robot transformation at the heart of the books has roots in existing technology. As with his adult novels, which include the 2013 techno thriller Extinction and the 2016 first-contact yarn The Orion Plan, Alpert says it’s important to him to incorporate real science into every aspect of his YA adventures. For THE SILENCE and its predecessors, he found footing in the BRAIN Initiative, a $100 million brain-imaging project spearheaded by the Obama administration in 2013. While the technology is being developed with an eye toward medical applications such as cancer and Alzheimer’s treatment, Alpert’s writer brain went in another direction.
“One of the technologies they’re looking at is using nanoparticles that will only chemically bond to tumor sites,” he explains. “So you inject these nanoparticles into the body, and they find the tumor, and then you take a specific kind of light to selectively heat those nanoparticles and eliminate the tumor. This is a real technology. I remember writing about it at Scientific American. And that’s the technology I used to image the brain [in the Six trilogy].”
But for all the heady science and spectacular action sequences—THE SILENCE finds Adam doing battle at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, in surreal virtual reality landscapes, and even inside the body of a dying girl in a Fantastic Voyage-style microbiological showdown – the biggest challenge the kids face is retaining their humanity.
“That’s a big struggle in these books,” Alpert says. “Once you become a robot, you have so much power, and you can move from one machine to the next, and your mental abilities are incredible. But can you maintain your humanity when you’re so powerful? That’s what Adam and the other characters struggle with.”
And while that focus on humanity over hardware has helped the books resonate with young readers, Alpert has found that kids are just as intrigued as adults by the sophisticated science that underpins his work.
“I’m a true believer in not dumbing down the books for young adults,” he says. “I think they can have just as much science as adult novels. I get most inspired when I see a kid who’s read the books and they totally get it—they understand every single bit in it and have actually thought the matter through more than I have. I love hearing that, because then you realize, these kids are smart. If they’re passionate about it, they’ll understand it better than I can understand it. That’s my goal, I guess.”
April Snellings is a staff writer and project editor for RUE MORGUE MAGAZINE, which reaches more than 500,000 horror, thriller, and suspense fans across its media platforms. She recently joined the lineup of creators for Glass Eye Pix’s acclaimed audio drama series TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, an Entertainment Weekly “Must List” pick that has been featured in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. April’s Season Three episode of TALES – a darkly comic horror/crime mash-up called “Food Chain” – was an iTunes Top 25 Fiction Audiobooks bestseller. You can visit her website at www.aprilsnellings.com or connect with her on Twitter @AprilSnellings.