Book Buzz: TOKYO KILL by Barry Lancet

At ScienceThrillers.com, I specialize in books that have scientific or medical content (see my post on how this is different from science fiction). But sometimes I come across a book that simply is too good not to share, even if it lies outside my technophile niche. Welcome to the Book Buzz review of TOKYO KILL.

Tokyo Kill by Barry Lancet, is book #2 in an outstanding Asia-themed detective series that began last year with Lancet’s acclaimed debut Japantown (reviewed by ScienceThrillers here.)Tokyo Kill cover

Summary from the publisher:

Antiques dealer-turned-P.I. Jim Brodie matches wits with an elusive group of killers chasing a long-lost treasure that has a dangerous history.

When an elderly World War II veteran shows up unannounced at Brodie Security begging for protection, the staff thinks he’s just a paranoid old man. He offers up a story connected to the war and to Chinese Triads operating in present-day Tokyo, insisting that he and his few surviving army buddies are in danger.

Fresh off his involvement in solving San Francisco’s Japantown murders, antiques dealer Jim Brodie had returned to Tokyo for some R&R, and to hunt down a rare ink painting by the legendary Japanese Zen master Sengai for one of his clients—not to take on another case with his late father’s P.I. firm. But out of respect for the old soldier, Brodie agrees to provide a security detail, thinking it’ll be an easy job and end when the man comes to his senses.

Instead, an unexpected, brutal murder rocks Brodie and his crew, sending them deep into the realm of the Triads, Chinese spies, kendo warriors, and an elusive group of killers whose treachery spans centuries—and who will stop at nothing to complete their mission.

ScienceThrillers review: Nobody else can do what author Barry Lancet does in his Japan-themed thriller series. Lancet is an American who has lived in Japan for over twenty-five years. He has a deep understanding of Japanese culture and history, and a strong sensibility for those aspects of Japan that seem most foreign to Americans. Tokyo Kill would be a very good thriller based solely on the plot and writing. Include the fascinating cultural context which permeates the story and you’ve got a must-read thriller masterpiece.

Lancet’s cultural understanding, and knowledge of Japanese art and artifacts, shines through in his main character Jim Brodie. Brodie is, unsurprisingly, an American who lives with one foot in the US and the other in Japan. He is professionally split as well, working as both an Asian art dealer in San Francisco and manager of a Tokyo-based private security/detective company that he inherited from his father. While Brodie’s bulldog persistence in the face of danger can seem foolhardy, it is his defining trait.

Tokyo Kill is a page-turning, absorbing read with enough plot questions and twists to keep the protagonist running and the reader reading. Plenty of thriller authors create books that do this. What makes Tokyo Kill special is the “mysterious Orient.” This book is a fine example of setting as character. Tokyo Kill could not take place in another city, much less another country, without eviscerating the story. Japanese culture and history are integral to the characters and the plot. The fate of Japanese soldiers (and war criminals) after WWII; looted treasures from the last emperor of China; the role of women in Japanese law enforcement; the importance of status relationships; the culture of kendo fighting; tea drinking; the history of swordmaking in Japan; all these are important. When Jim Brodie is led through the back alleys of Tokyo’s Chinatown, and when he dines with a dangerous spy in an elite Tokyo restaurant, the author’s vivid descriptions will transport you to this fascinating country far away.

Tokyo Kill is an intelligent, engrossing thriller novel with a sinuous plot leading from Tokyo to the Caribbean. Readers with even a passing interest in Japanese culture will love this book. If you eat sushi, read Tokyo Kill.

Purchase Tokyo Kill from: amazon; iTunes

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Top 25 science / STEM contests for kids 2014-2015

ScienceThrillers.com is proud to compile this list of the year’s top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contests and competitions for the 2014-2015 school year. Please share, tweet, re-post this list to parents, educators, potential sponsors and judges.

Encourage–heck, force–your kid to participate the same way you’d push for attendance at that out-of-town soccer game. Help your niece, nephew, grandchild, or the neighbor kid complete a science project. Volunteer to work at your local science fair; if you’re a scientist, technician, or engineer, volunteer to be a judge or mentor a team at your neighborhood school. Make a donation or sponsor a special award. Get involved to support STEM education!

New to the ScienceThrillers List this year (2014-2015): #2 Exploravision and #12 MathCounts Video Challenge

Not your ordinary science fair:

1. The DuPont Challenge: Every kid with access to a computer should enter this one.

  • Science essay writing contest (700-1000 words on the science topic of your choice in broad categories of food, energy, environment, and innovation)
  • Grades 6-12 (junior & senior divisions) students in U.S. and Canada
  • Prizes: expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World & the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, plus thousands of dollars
  • Online entry dates: November 15, 2014-January 31, 2015
  • Science story writing contest for grades K-5 (new this year); entry dates are November 1, 2014-March 1, 2015

2. ExploraVision: ExploraVision is a science competition that goes beyond the typical student science competition and into what it takes to bring ideas to reality. Students work in groups to simulate real research and development. A teacher will guide his or her students as they pick a current technology, research it, envision what it might look like in 20 years, and describe the development steps, pros & cons, and obstacles. Past winners have envisioned technologies ranging from a hand-held food allergen detector to a new device to help people who have lost limbs regain movement in real time.

  • K-12 students in US and Canada in public, private, or home school
  • 2-4 students per team; four age categories
  • Entry deadline: January
  • Entry consists of an abstract, project description, bibliography, and 5 web pages
  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association

3. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Deadline for submitting your Investor Pitch is November 4, 2014. Accepted abstracts will be invited to submit full proposal.

  •  Team event, ages 13-18. Challenges high school students to create innovative new commercial products using STEM. Open to students worldwide.
  • Challenge: conceptualize a solution in one of these areas: aerospace & aviation; energy & environment; cybersecurity & technology; health & nutrition; giant leap to Mars
  • Initial entry is Investor Pitch & Video. Entries chosen for semifinals work in prototype development and submit a Draft Development business Plan
  • Teams compete for the opportunity to attend Innovation Summit and share an anticipated $500,000+ in awards including: seed funding grants, investment opportunities, patent support, business services, scholarships and other opportunities (as provided by our partners and sponsors) to grow their solution into a real business.

4. US FIRST Robotics & Tech Programs: World-wide eligibility. You’ve probably seen winners of these competitions featured in the media.

  • Jr. FIRST Lego League: For kids ages 6-9. Team event. Event season is now until April 2014. Learn about this year’s challenge (Natural Disasters) and use LEGOs to build a simple machine around this topic.
  • FIRST Lego League: For kids ages 9-14 (grades 4-8). Team event. Season starts in the fall. Design, build, program, test robots using LEGO Mindstorms technology.
  • FIRST Tech Challenge: For grades 7-12. Big scholarship prizes at stake.

FTC is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head to head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. The robot kit is reusable from year-to-year and is programmed using a variety of languages. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as for community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

The varsity Sport for the MindTM, FRC combines the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. Under strict rules, limited resources, and time limits, teams of 25 students or more are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program robots to perform prescribed tasks against a field of competitors.  It’s as close to “real-world engineering” as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team.

5. 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Challenge (2015 event coming soon)

  • U.S. students in grades 5-8
  • To enter, students need to submit a 1-2 minute video which describes a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem related to: [1] the way we move; [2] the way we keep ourselves healthy; or [3] the way we make a difference. {These topics may change for this year’s Challenge.}
  • Ten finalists will be mentored by 3M scientists and win a trip to 3M headquarters in Minnesota
  • First place wins $25,000. All finalists win a Discovery Student Adventures trip
  • Contest entries accepted December to April

6. Team American Rocketry Challenge: Teams design, build and fly a model rocket that reaches a specific altitude and duration determined by a set of rules developed each year. The contest is designed to encourage students to study math and science and pursue careers in aerospace. The top 100 teams, based on local qualification flights, are invited to Washington, DC in May for the national finals. Prizes include $60,000 in cash and scholarships split between the top 10 finishers. NASA invites top teams to participate in their Student Launch Initiative, an advanced rocketry program. AIA member companies, such as Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have sponsored additional prizes such as scholarship money and a trip to an international air show.

  • Teams of 3-10 students in grades 7-12
  • Enter your team before December 12, 2014

7. eCyberMission: is a web-based STEM competition free for students in grades 6 through 9 sponsored by the U.S. Army. Teams can compete for state, regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their community.

  • Registration deadline: December 17, 2014
  • 3 or 4 student members from the same state with an adult team advisor
  • Team chooses one category of “mission challenge”, asks a question, and tests it using scientific method
  • 1/5 of final score is based on project’s potential benefit to the community
  • Virtual judges also needed. Can you volunteer?

8. Science Olympiad: School-based teams of 15 students in grades 6-12 who prepare, coach, and practice throughout the year. There is also an elementary division for K-6 teams. 9. The Tech Challenge: This is an awesome program with tons of support (workshops and clinics throughout the preparation process) but everything is at The Tech Museum of Innovation in Silicon Valley (San Jose, CA) so contest is effectively restricted to Bay Area teams.

  • The Tech Challenge is an annual team design challenge for students in grades 4-12 that introduces and reinforces the science and engineering design process with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem.
  • Teams of 2-6 people compete in three divisions: Elementary (grades 4-6), Middle (grades 7-8), High (grades 9-12)
  • Event Day is Saturday, April 25-26, 2015 at the Tech Museum.
  • This year’s challenge: Build an earthquake-safe structure

Math & Technology competitions:

10. Future City: “The Future City Competition is a national, project-based learning experience where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade imagine, design, and build cities of the future. Students work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ 4 Deluxe software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models with recycled materials; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February.” This year’s topic (2014-15): Feeding Future Cities. National finals in Washington DC (travel paid by Future City!) are February 14-18, 2015.

  • Educators can do the program without competing if they wish. Teams of 3 students + educator + engineer mentor. More students can participate but only three will present.
  • 1. Register in October; 2. Design virtual city in SimCity4 3. Draft essay 4. Work on building scale model of city 5. Write city narrative 6. Submissions

11. MathCounts Competition Series: Enrichment, club, and competition math programs for middle school U.S. students (grades 6-8). National competition is a major event held in May; 12 students vie for title of Raytheon Mathlete Champion

  • Enroll your school online now to get your MathCounts handbook (early deadline: November 14, 2014; final deadline: December 12, 2014). Homeschools are eligible. Club program is free. Competition teams of 1-4 students: fee $25-$100.
  • Competitions begin in January

MathCounts also offers a Solve-A-Thon fundraising program for school math programs. Great idea–check it out here. 12. MathCounts Math Video Challenge: Empowers students to be math teachers, video producers, actors and artists – all at the same time! Students create a video that teaches the solution to one of the problems from the 2014-2015 MATHCOUNTS School Handbook, and also demonstrates the real-world application of the math concept used in the problem. View previous winners here.

  • Teams of 4 students
  • Grades 6-8
  • Video less than 5 minutes in length
  • Video entry deadline: March 13, 2015
  • Winning students win college scholarships

13. National STEM Video Game Challenge: “Goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passion for playing and making video games.” No programming experience required. Competitors may use a variety of game design platforms including Scratch, Gamestar Mechanic, and others

  •  Categories for middle school (grades 5-8) and high school. Also prizes for educators. Homeschoolers are eligible.
  • To enter, you or your team of up to 4 people must design a “video game” (defined at the site) that incorporates STEM learning
  • Game can be fully programmed and playable (in one of the platforms suggested) or submitted as detailed written game design documents
  • Entry dates for this year TBD; last year entries were accepted from February to April
  • Prizes: laptop computers + $2000

14. Microsoft’s Imagine Cup: For budding tech entrepreneurs. Three technology competitions for high school & university students worldwide. Imagine Cup World Finals 2015 will be in Seattle. Contests:

  • Code Hunt Challenge: 24-hour intense individual coding event. Next challenge begins October 18, 2014 with more to come
  • Games: Ages 16 and up. Teams of up to 4 competitors. Final submissions deadline March 15, 2015. Best new student game. $50,000 prize.
  • InnovationIncredible, world-changing software innovations often come from students. Social networks, music services, digital photography apps, gadgets and robotics – the list goes on. We’re looking for the next big thing and we know students like you are going to make it. Top team wins $50,000.

15. M3 Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: Math competition to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on a real-world issue. Top prize $20,000.

  • High school juniors & seniors in 45 U.S. states only. (Should go nationwide in 2016.) Homeschoolers eligible.
  • Teams of 3-5 students have 14 hours over one weekend to do the problem; prepare by working on problems from previous years
  • Last year, registration began November 2013 and ended February 2014

16. Technology Student Association TEAMS: Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is an annual competition for middle and high school students designed to help them discover their potential for engineering. Open to homeschoolers. During this one-day competition (sometime between Feb. 9-March 21, 2015), students apply math and science knowledge in practical, creative ways to solve real-world engineering challenges. The 2015 TEAMS competition, “The Power of Engineering,” is based on the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge “energy.”  Students will address engineering challenges in areas such as alternative fuels, solar power, hydropower, nuclear power, smart homes, wind energy. Events are held at universities around the U.S. National finals June 28-July 2, 2015, near Dallas, TX. TEAMS take a multiple choice test to apply math and science to novel situations, then offer ideas for engineering solutions in response to five tasks.

17. NASA Exploration Design Challenge. “The goal of the Exploration Design Challenge is for students to research and design ways to protect astronauts from space radiation.” Not sure if this event will be repeated in 2015. 2014 entry deadline was in June.

  • Challenges for grades K-4, 5-8, 9-12
  • Classroom based (would work for homeschool, too)
  • Design and build a prototype radiation shield

Traditional science fair competitions:

Science fairs were a crucial formative experience for me.  I’m competitive by nature but not interested in sports. I loved science and I was smart. Science fairs were a perfect match for me. Competing in three ISEFs truly changed my life. (Thank you, Minnesota State University SC/SW Regional Science Fair–so happy to see you’re still honoring kids with a passion for science!)

18. Intel International Science and Engineering Fairs (ISEF) and their affiliated regional fairs are the granddaddies of the science fair world. I can only summarize this massive global enterprise and direct you to the website of the sponsor, Society for Science and the Public.

  • Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to compete in affiliated regional fairs
  • Individuals or small teams perform a real scientific investigation (sometimes engineering, math, or computer programming) with well-designed experiments following the scientific method. This can be from the most basic level (such as, testing effect of water on seed germination) to the most advanced (ISEF national winners often have worked in university laboratories on cutting-edge science).
  • Check your regional fair’s website for deadlines. Regulations for use of human subjects, chemicals, etc. are quite strict and most projects require pre-approval as early as December, but certainly before the student starts work.

Broadcom MASTERS competition is part of the ISEF enterprise, a kind of junior ISEF. Top winners in grades 6-8 at ISEF-affiliated regional science fairs are nominated to enter their work in Broadcom MASTERS. Entry is by nomination only. Semifinalists are announced in August/September from the previous school year. 19.  Siemens Competition. Siemens is open to grades 9-12. Project entry deadline: Sept. 30, 2014. (Research must be done to enter, so plan now to enter next year.) 20. The BioGENEius Challenge: For big-time high school science projects in biotechnology 21. The Google Science Fair: “an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. All you need is an idea. Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions.” As best I can tell, Google Science Fair entries are traditional science fair projects (real experiments performed using the scientific method and following all safety/ethics rules of the sponsoring fair) that the student enters online in a virtual science fair. You are allowed to enter a project that you also entered in a “real” science fair. Ideal for kids who don’t have access to an ISEF-affiliated regional fair.

  • Anybody, anywhere ages 13-18 can enter
  • No details posted yet for 2014-15; sign up to be notified
  • Awards in 3 age divisions. Big prizes: previous year’s winners won tens of thousands of dollars, media coverage, a trip to Google, and even a visit with President Obama at the White House, and a grand prize ten-day trip to the Galapagos Islands.

22. The Canada Wide Virtual Science Fair invites K-12 Canadian students to do a science project and then build a website to display their work.

  • Grades K-12 in Canadian schools
  • Registration begins January 2015

Bonus Contests:

23. Science & Art: 3rd Annual Humans in Space Art Contest

  • Open to kids 10-18 years old worldwide
  • Visual, literary, musical, or video artwork expressing vision of how will space, science, and technology benefit humanity? Must include a clear reference to the International Space Station.
  • Entry deadline: November 15, 2014.
  • Top prize: $5,000

Envirothon_Logo(1)24. Environmental Education:  North America Envirothon

  • Nationwide team competition for high school students in U.S. and Canada.
  • Teams organized in schools, homeschools, scout groups, etc.
  • In-class learning + hands-on outdoor activities to learn environmental science.
  • Topics: Soils and land use; aquatic ecology; forestry; wildlife; environmental issues. This year: sustainable local agriculture.
  • Students are tested at local competitions. National event is held in summer. (This year: July 27-August 2, 2015 Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri.)
  • 2015 Topic: Urban/Community Forestry
  • Registration will open in late fall.

25. Odyssey of the Mind: A wide-ranging intellectual competition for K-12+ that includes solving problems in these categories, most of which involve STEM:

  • Mechanical/Vehicle
  • Classics
  • Performance
  • Structure
  • Technical Performance

Past events that might come back: Kavli Science Video Contest. View 2014 video winners here.  The Kids Science Challenge: Sponsored by National Science Foundation, for grades 3-6. Last seen in 2012.


Do you know about another contest which should be on this list? Please leave a comment!

Please share this post! We need more kids involved in STEM.


Teachers: Combine science learning with thriller fiction. Use the PETROPLAGUE Teacher Guide to easily incorporate Dr. Amy Rogers’ page-turning eco-disaster novel Petroplague into your advanced biology or microbiology curriculum. Perfect for homeschoolers or book clubs. Learn how to virtually bring Dr. Rogers to your group.

Want to know more about how to do a science project? Need project ideas? ScienceBuddies.org will walk you through everything.

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Author Guest Post: Janice Gable Bashman on PREDATOR

ScienceThrillers.com welcomes author Janice Gable Bashman in a guest post discussing her latest young adult (YA) scifi thriller novel, Predator.

Summary: The hunt is on! Sixteen-year-old Bree Sunderland must inject herself with an untested version of her father’s gene therapy to become a werewolf in order to stop a corrupt group of mercenaries from creating a team of unstoppable lycanthrope soldiers.

When Bree went with her scientist father to Ireland, she thought it would be a vacation to study bog bodies. She never expected to fall in love with a mysterious young Irishman and certainly never expected to become the kind of monster her father said only existed in nightmares.

Dr. Sunderland discovers that lycanthropy was not a supernatural curse but rather a genetic mutation. When they return home, her dad continues his research, but the military wants to turn that research into a bio weapons program and rogue soldiers want to steal the research to turn themselves into unstoppable killing machines. Bree’s boyfriend Liam surprises her with a visit to the United States, but there are darker surprises in store for both of them.

As evil forces hunt those she loves, Bree must become an even more dangerous hunter to save them all. Predator gives the werewolf legend a couple of new spins by introducing the Benandanti (an actual folkloric belief that certain families of Italy and Livonia were werewolves who fought against evil), as well as a modern scientific approach to mutation and the science of transgenics.

She will become the thing she hates, to protect those she loves.

*****
Guest post by author Janice Gable Bashman

I love when an author takes science to its extreme. Often it goes horribly wrong. I devoured early works by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park and Sphere) and James Rollins (Deep Fathom and Amazonia) during my youth. The books were popular and it’s easy to see why. The authors took old tales—dinosaurs roaming the earth, a 300 year-old space ship at the bottom of the ocean, an ancient power causing havoc in a modern-day world, and a mysterious disease threatening to wipe out the population with the cure hidden deep inside the jungle—and put new spins on them. The stories were fresh and exciting and loved by many. They still are.

So how do you put a new spin on an old tale when readers think they already know how it’s supposed to go and there isn’t anything they can possibly learn?

You have to think outside the box, as the saying goes.

In my young adult novel Predator, I give the werewolf legend a couple of new spins by introducing the Benandanti (an actual folkloric belief that certain families of Italy and Livonia were werewolves who fought against evil) as well as a modern scientific approach to mutation and the science of transgenics. But I take these new spins a step further. The science is used to its extreme, in some cases it goes horribly wrong, and the Benandnati may not be what they seem. How did the Benandanti end up alive today and living in Ireland and the United States? What are they up to and why? Are they good or evil?

By raising new questions, upping the stakes, and using science in a new way, I was able to put a new twist on the werewolf tale. Writing about science or werewolves or super soldiers is nothing new. They are simply a premise. It’s the story elements that give these topics a new twist and makes them fresh and exciting. And it’s the characters that bring them alive.


Janice Gable Bashman is the Bram Stoker nominated author of PREDATOR (Month9Books 2014) and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (w/NEW YORK TIMES bestseller Jonathan Maberry) (Citadel Press 2010). She is editor of THE BIG THRILL (International Thriller Writers’ magazine). Her short fiction has been published in various anthologies and magazines. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Mystery Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and the International Thriller Writers, where she serves on the board of directors as Vice President, Technology.

Author Website

Author Facebook

This post originally appeared on KillZone Authors Blog.
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New release book review: THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm

ScienceThrillers.com book review of THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm.

BlueStar5

(extraordinary; top 10-15% of SciThri)

Publication date: August 26, 2014
Category: middle grade science-themed fiction
Tech rating (out of 5; what does this mean?):

Biohazard5

Summary (from the publisher):

Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer. Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far? Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish.

Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?

With a lighthearted touch and plenty of humor, Jennifer Holm celebrates the wonder of science and explores fascinating questions about life and death, family and friendship, immortality . . . and possibility.

ScienceThrillers review:

Who knew that a “simple” little book for 8-12 year olds could be so brilliant?

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm (author of many things including the Babymouse series of graphic novels) is laugh-out-loud funny, poignant, inspiring, and science-y all in one. Buy this one and read it to the youngster in your life, or just enjoy it yourself and then donate it to a school library.

The setup and plot are simple enough. Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who has a fan club in Finland, has found the key to restoring youth in a mysterious, one-of-a-kind jellyfish. (This idea is based on real research about jellyfish that never age.) Grandpa Melvin is now a teenager in body, but he’s still Grandpa in mind and spirit. This contrast makes for some fantastic conversations. “Teenage” Melvin in his old-man polyester pants says:

“You need good grades if you’re going to get into a competitive PhD program.”

“PhD program? She’s eleven years old!” my mother says.

Unfortunately, Melvin the kid has been kicked out of his research lab because nobody believes he is Melvin the doctor. He needs to get inside to snatch the jellyfish so he can publish his data. Meanwhile, he’s living with his daughter and granddaughter and going to Ellie’s school.

Around this premise, author Holm weaves a surprisingly subtle and complex tale about change vs stasis, what it means to grow up and grow old, the power of science to transform the world for good or for ill, the importance of ethics and thoughtfulness in research, parent-child relationships, and the power of possibility. Holm invokes Marie Curie, Robert Oppenheimer, Newton, and Jonas Salk.

For me as an adult reader, the best parts of The Fourteenth Goldfish were the pitch-perfect portrayals of a crotchety genius with a soft spot for his granddaughter, a man who might win a Nobel prize but can’t handle any deviation from his diet of Chinese take-out moo goo gai pan. As a science-y person, I loved the deft incorporation of science biography and history as a natural part of the story, not as something preachy or “educational” added on.

A rare gem of great storytelling and science content in a middle grade novel. Highly recommend.

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New release book review: ON IMMUNITY, AN INOCULATION by Eula Biss

ScienceThrillers.com book review and giveaway of On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss.

Scroll down to enter to win a paperback advance reader copy (ARC) of this important new release


BlueStar5

Publication date: September 30, 2014
Category: narrative nonfiction; essay; memoir

Summary (from the publisher):

Why do we fear vaccines? A provocative examination by Eula Biss, the author of Notes from No Man’s Land, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world.

In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body. As she hears more and more fears about vaccines, Biss researches what they mean for her own child, her immediate community, America, and the world, both historically and in the present moment. She extends a conversation with other mothers to meditations on Voltaire’s Candide, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Susan Sontag’s AIDS and Its Metaphors, and beyond. On Immunity is a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.

On Immunity investigates vaccines as a way to explore the larger question of why our culture teaches us to mistrust each other.”

ScienceThrillers review:

On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss is an extraordinary, unclassifiable, vital book that deserves to be widely read and reflected upon. Written by a critically acclaimed essayist, On Immunity is a memoir, an essay collection, a history, a social commentary, a parenting guide, a literary work…The author herself has a hard time succinctly answering the question, “What is your book about?”

I’ll tell you what On Immunity is about by telling you why it’s an important book. As a scientist and medical professional myself, I “believe” in vaccination. My kids get their immunizations on schedule, I get my flu shot every fall. I bristle when I encounter anti-vaccine people and propaganda. And like many other people in my shoes, I look at the data on the benefits versus risks of vaccination, and I wonder why “those people” don’t get it. Essentially, I’m asking, “What is WRONG with those people?”

But did I ever truly, honestly explore the question from a more neutral perspective, not, what is wrong with vaccine refuseniks, but, why do they perceive the world so differently from the way I do?

Fortunately, Eula Biss has deeply explored this important question, and in unfailingly beautiful, intelligent prose, she has answered it with a depth and breadth that astonishes.

Clinical study data have nothing to do with it, which really shouldn’t surprise anyone. In how many aspects of our lives do we ignore data and make decisions based on other considerations? Many–no, most.

Biss makes crucial insights into the numerous complex streams that feed the anti-vaccine movement. To begin, she uses an ongoing metaphor of the vampire. The act of injecting a foreign substance into the body is fraught with metaphysical significance. Biss links it to violation, corruption, and pollution. Historically, others have, too. An Anglican bishop in 1882 referred to a smallpox vaccination scar as “the mark of the beast.” (Her analysis of the history of vaccination amply demonstrates that vaccine refusal is not new.)

If there is one idea that Biss contributes which is most novel and most important to the conversation about vaccination, it is this: the decision to vaccinate is not a private one. It is intimately a part of our how we view ourselves in relation to our community, our government, and our institutions. Indeed, Biss argues that our own bodies are not as individually disconnected from the body public as we believe. She links immunization to our membership in a group, to the fundamental connectedness of people. She likens universal vaccination to a blood bank. Each person donates part of her own body to protect the health of another. Ultimately, she shows that “immunity” isn’t something that happens inside our bodies. It happens to our community. And certain privileged members of this community have a responsibility to act for the benefit of those who are less so.

As difficult as it is to summarize this slender volume, it’s even more challenging to highlight the best or most important passages. I swear I highlighted, commented, or dog-eared half the pages in the book. Profound ideas and syntheses follow one after another.

This is an intellectual book. It is ill-suited to soundbites, and is painted entirely in shades of gray, something our over-opinionated culture finds discomfiting. Therefore it will not appeal to every reader. What makes On Immunity the perfect book for the conversation on vaccination is, the author herself is a member of the class most likely to refuse vaccination: educated, married, white mothers. She writes as one of them, and communicates in a way that should appeal directly to the intelligent, socially concerned, well-read women who object to vaccines, women who experience a modern American trauma of “feeling responsible for everything and powerless at the same time.”

I hope that many book groups consisting of such women will have the courage to engage with this book. It speaks to them from the heart, and it understands how they feel. While Biss explicitly rejects the idea of a middle ground on the question of vaccination as a false peace, she remains utterly grounded in and sympathetic to the worldview of those who want to protect their children. Her persuasion has nothing in common with the data-haranguing of the medical/scientific establishment. She asks for a larger view of the self, and an embrace of the community.
a Rafflecopter giveaway ON IMMUNITY by Eula Biss

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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SciThri new releases: September 2014

This month’s roundup of newly-released, or new to me, indie science & medical thrillers.  These books are among the many I don’t have time to read and review, but genre fans might enjoy.

If you are an author or publicist and would like your book listed, contact me with title, author, release date, weblinks, and summary. Only books with scientific or medical themes or characters will be included. Ask me about hosting a giveaway raffle on your behalf (paper books only).

SciThri New (or new to me) Releases:

(Bonus this month: BOOK GIVEAWAY RAFFLES!)

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Ark Storm by Linda Davies. Science thriller (2014).

The Ark Storm is coming—a catastrophic weather event that will unleash massive floods and wreak more damage on California than the feared “Big One.” One man wants to profit from it. Another wants to harness it to wage jihad on American soil. One woman stands in their way: Dr. Gwen Boudain, a brave and brilliant meteorologist.

When Boudain notices that her climate readings are off the charts, she turns to Gabriel Messenger for research funding. Messenger’s company is working on a program that ionizes water molecules to bring rain on command. Meanwhile, Wall Street suits notice that someone is placing six-month bets on the prospect of an utter apocalypse and begin to investigate. Standing in the shadows is journalist Dan Jacobsen, a former Navy SEAL. War hardened, cynical, and handsome, Jacobsen is a man with his own hidden agenda.

Digital Wilderness by F.L. Ciano. Indie technothriller (2014).

Edward Phillips is at the top of his career at Virton Technologies developing cutting edge software systems for government contractors. His biggest stress is dodging the growing pressure he’s been getting from, Gabriella, his long-time girlfriend. She wants him to settle down, get married and have kids. Life is good, but is he ready for the big commitment?

The stakes change drastically when Edward accepts a sudden promotion to the corporate headquarters in Boston, taking him away from his tough personal decisions and introducing him to the mysterious Human Augmentation Digital Interface project. At first, HADI appears to be the perfect software to evolve humanity, touted to help the disabled walk again, allow the deaf to hear and the blind to see.

Then, Edward meets Noc. Suddenly Edward discovers that this benevolent technology has a steep price and he is thrown into a lethal game of corporate espionage that leads to a nationwide manhunt for a deadly spy, a charge his enemies are intent to pin on him.

Edward must sacrifice his freedom and risk everything he loves if he hopes to thwart Virton’s psychotic mastermind and save humanity from an insidious tool that will be able to control our very minds.

a Rafflecopter giveaway DIGITAL WILDERNESS by FL Ciano
American Jackal: A Troy Stoker, M.D. Psychiatry Thriller by Dr. Francis Bandettini and Matt Nilsen. Indie psychiatry thriller (2014).

Psychiatrist, Troy Stoker, M.D., bursts onto the psychiatry thriller landscape when his high-profile patient, the lieutenant governor-elect’s wife, makes a simple mistake that could cost her everything, including her life, and brings her face to face with an American jackal. In this confrontation with corruption, Ann Higgins stumbles into the underworld life of a high-ranking South Dakota statesman; and she catapults her psychiatrist, Troy Stoker, M.D., into the conflict. When her chilling discovery threatens to devastate a politician’s secret dominion, Ann ends up dangling from a makeshift noose and fighting for her survival, while plunging Dr. Stoker even deeper into the battle of minds, muscles and new tech. Dr. Stoker enlists Errol Rivera, a fellow physician and military attaché to help unravel the mystery and take on the challenges set before them. Together Stoker and Rivera use their brilliant intuition, psychiatric savvy and military skills to pursue the veiled, corrupt politician and hunt down his criminal pack. Still, Stoker is unaware that his Cuban-born, patriot friend, Rivera, is much more than a doctor with a hero’s past. At his command, Rivera unleashes an elite band of warriors who engage their training, guts, technology and weaponry to confront the corruption. Hold on and jump into this gritty thrill ride as the new hero, Troy Stoker, M.D., emerges in an explosive new political and psychiatry thriller, American Jackal.

The Bone Room (The Nocturnist Book 1) by James Vitarius. Indie medical thriller (2014).

Dr. Zeke Oswald thought he was getting a fresh start with his new job working the night shift in a small city hospital. Until, that is, he stumbles across a dead body in the middle of the night. One of the hospital’s nurses has been murdered and soon, beautiful yet inexperienced detective Selinda Bruchart is looking into Zeke’s involvement and his past. Zeke becomes an amateur sleuth and, with the help of hospital intern Patience McMorris, sets out to solve the crime and clear his name.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Do you enjoy thrillers with real science? Read Petroplague by Dr. Amy Rogers. Oil-eating bacteria contaminate the fuel supply of Los Angeles and paralyze the city. “Compellingly written, technically literate” “top 5 on my best of 2011 list” “the science is utterly believable” “I couldn’t put this one down”

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Should you get an advance copy of REVERSION by Amy Rogers?

*Gene therapy, medical tourism, illicit drugs, black-market organs, killer chimpanzees, a dying child, and a $50,000 dog at an elite private hospital in Mexico*

“REVERSION has everything I love about science thrillers: an exotic setting, a brilliant protagonist, a terrifying villain, and a story that takes readers on a wild ride across the frontiers of science. It’s a fun, frightening, and memorable novel.” Mark Alpert, author of Extinction

On November 10, after three long years, my next science/medical thriller novel, Reversion, will finally go on sale. If you read and enjoyed Petroplague, or if you enjoy the kinds of books I review here at ScienceThrillers.com, then Reversion is for you.

Today I’m revealing the diabolical front cover of the coming paperback and ebook edition: REVERSIONfrontcover The final edition hasn’t been printed yet, but I do have Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) in paperback and digital formats. I would love to share these with two faithful readers of ScienceThrillers.com, in hopes that you will read them and spread the word about this sophisticated, timely new thriller novel.

To be selected to receive an ARC (in your choice of paper or ebook) of Reversion, leave a comment telling me why you should be the one to get an early copy. In the next week, I’ll choose two lucky readers!

Summary of Reversion:

Rabies kills. Can it also cure?

Tessa Price, PhD, knows what it’s like to lose a child to a genetic disease. To spare another mother this pain, she invents a radical new gene therapy that might save the life of seven-year-old Gunnar Sigrunsson. Unable to get regulatory approval to treat Gunnar in the US, she takes her clinical trial to the Palacio Centro Medico, a resort-like hospital on a Mexican peninsula where rich medical tourists get experimental treatments that aren’t available anywhere else.

When the hospital is taken over by a brutal drug cartel led by a man desperate for a kidney transplant, Tessa hides with a remarkable trio of Palacio clients—rich Texan Lyle Simmons, his much-younger Brazilian girlfriend, and his protection dog, a German shepherd named Dixie, only to learn that the gangsters aren’t the only deadly threat they face. A rabies-like infection that began in the Palacio’s research chimpanzees has spread to humans. Tessa investigates and finds a shocking connection to her gene therapy experiment. In the wake of this discovery, Tessa must weigh the value of one human life against another—including her own.

Pre-order for Kindle version available now. Other vendors and formats coming soon.

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New release book review: SYNBIO by Leslie Alan Horvitz

ScienceThrillers.com book review of SYNBIO by Leslie Alan Horvitz.

BlueStar2

(30th percentile of SciThri)

Publication date: July 1, 2014
Category: science thriller
Tech rating (out of 5; what does this mean?):

Biohazard5

Summary (from amazon listing):

Scientists now have the capacity to hack into DNA the same way that hackers can infiltrate computer systems, manipulating organisms by inserting new DNA or exploiting genetic mutations that can trigger fatal heart attacks or induce bipolar illness or Alzheimer’s. These “biohackers” as they’re known, can perform their experiments in their kitchens using equipment purchased for next to nothing on eBay. Most of these biohackers are like Seth Stringer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who’s made a name for himself exploring the frontiers of genetic manipulation. He’s young, brash, ambitious, and obsessed with his work, but also a little naive. When his former professor Marcus Adair holds out the possibility of coming to London and going to work for an international pharmaceutical company called Chimera, he jumps at the chance. He can make good money and cement his relationship with his girlfriend, who has misgivings about his future prospects as a breadwinner. He fails to realize until too late that the principal business of Chimera isn’t the manufacture of generic drugs but the production of lethal genetic products for well-heeled clients. These are used to assassinate or debilitate presidents, prime ministers, and CEOs using their own DNA against them-a method that not only makes it difficult to identify the perpetrator (a cold virus can deliver the engineered DNA) but makes it almost impossible to determine that a crime has been committed in the first place.

ScienceThrillers review:

I really wanted to love this book.

SynBio starts with a fantastic near-future premise. In SynBio, scientists can readily sequence individual people’s genomes (true). They can identify sequence variations that cause susceptibility to certain diseases (true). They can then design and deliver some kind of agent that will specifically trigger that individual’s disease susceptibility and kill them without a trace (not true in reality, but plausible SciThri).

Seth Stringer is a talented young scientist desperate for cash and recognition. He is unknowingly lured into a complex international scheme to apply his biohacking talents to the perfect murders of people in power. Simultaneously in the book, the reader follows the story of the other protagonist, a deeply flawed yet sympathetic Eugenie Tattersall, who “harvests” the targets’ DNA for sequencing. Seth and Eugenie’s paths cross later in the book.

Author Horvitz clearly knows a lot about science, and he uses that knowledge effectively in this story. There is plenty of it but not too much for SciThri fans (this is what we want, after all). The science is grounded in reality even when it gets a bit woolly with the details of how these personalized biological assassinations take place. Horvitz also writes good scenes and has created two reasonably well-developed characters in Seth and Eugenie. In outline form, most of the plot works.

But a novel is more than the sum of its parts, and as a whole, SynBio ultimately disappoints. The story starts well, despite the confusing use of a secondary character in the opening pages. About a third of the way in, things start to bog down. This reader felt that the climax and resolution should be coming a lot sooner than the page count suggested. Indeed, at about halfway through, the scenes felt repetitive, the overall plot not advancing much.

In the final third, a tough editor or critical reader was needed. A “twist” involving a federal agent seemed transparent to me from the start, and I found it implausible that Seth didn’t see it either. The book becomes ambitious in its global scale, but the writing doesn’t hold up. Lots of implausible small details culminate in a lengthy and unbelievable capture and escape sequence in North Korea. While the “travel” writing is obviously well-researched, the events were unbelievable (both in terms of practicality and motive) and unnecessary.

The ending failed to redeem the fraying narrative. Loose ends, such as Seth’s ex-girlfriend, are left untied. What should have been a satisfying exposure of evil falls flat, and the protagonists’ own story is left unresolved.

FCC disclaimer: A free digital copy of this book was given to me for review via NetGalley. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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