Tag: pandemic

Pandemic Book Review

Book cover of Pandemic by Robin CookPandemic by Robin Cook opened my eyes to the dark side of the biotech world. Protagonist Dr. Jack Stapleton, a New York City medical examiner, fears an influenza virus is the cause of a sudden death on the subway of a young woman. He is wrong about the cause of death. But his instincts are on target.

Stapleton is married to his boss, Dr. Laurie Montgomery. There is quite a bit of tension in their relationship. Both at home and at the office, tempers flare. Jack begins to shut his wife out. In the end this puts his life in jeopardy.

Organ Transplant

At the center of the plot is a young heart transplant patient. The reader watches her race along the subway platform in order to catch a train. She makes it. Her heart beat returns to normal. Then death strikes. The first symptom is a chill followed by breathing difficulties. She dies before reaching her destination.

The autopsy reveals a heart transplant, with the heart in fantastic shape. But the lungs are filled with pus. Stapleton hypothesizes death by virus, but pathology tests are inconclusive. To make things worse, the patient is a Jane Doe. Stapleton, unwilling to face problems on the home front, buries his troubles in his quest to identify both the woman and her cause of death.

Characters

This was the first Robin Cook novel I had read, so all the characters were new to me. But to existing fans there are both recurring and fresh faces in the story. For a new reader, the returning characters were not as richly developed as the newbies. Only the stress of living with a special needs child defines the relationship of Stapleton and Montgomery.

CRISPR/Cas9

The acronym CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. Cas9 is a protein. A better explanation of this genetic breakthrough than I can give can be found in this video from University of California-Berkeley

Cook uses the novel Pandemic to introduce the promises of CRISPR/Cas9 as well as the serious consequences of the misuse of technology. The possibilities remain to be seen. But, birth defects such as Cystic Fibrosis and Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy are among the targets for this technology.

Mirroring Trends

I found it unsurprising that a billionaire capitalist was the villain of the story. Nor was I surprised that the communist leaning millennial son saves the day for both Stapleton and the world. Yet, the virus was concocted by the son. Definitely some mixed message in this book.

Cook even throws in some comments from the son of how divisive America is as compared to a more unified younger Chinese population:

In dialogue, the young man states: “We Chinese university-age generation are all on the same page, whether we are in school in Wuhan, or Canberra, or Paris, or Boston. We are of the same mind-set to truly make China great again, pardon the hackneyed phrase. Whereas here in the USA there is depressing divisiveness and a kind of anti-immigrant neotribalism that is getting progressively worse, in China we millennials are coming together.” (Cook, 2018, page 372)

My economic background understands mixed economies. Capitalist societies have some socialism within the market. The same holds true for the other “isms.” I tend to cringe when I read praise for Communism and Socialism. But we have a generation raised after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The fears of yesterday disappear as time marches forward.

Pandemic is worth reading. Cook brings attention to a rapidly changing world. Yet, pausing to think about the consequences of the change has merit. Let me know what you think of this novel.
For those of you interested in learning more about gene therapy the following website is informative:

https://www.neb.com/tools-and-resources/feature-articles/crispr-cas9-and-targeted-genome-editing-a-new-era-in-molecular-biology

Year One Book Review

Year One

Year One by Nora Roberts surprised me. Perhaps I need to read more of her work, but I tend to think of her writing in terms of romance combined with mystery as in Carolina Moon. I am not sure quite how to categorize Year One. While there are heartfelt relationships, there is not the typical romance plot. So I would not place the book in that genre. Furthermore, this is an ensemble cast. Only towards the end did I realize who the lead characters were.

Pandemic

The novel begins by depicting the start of a pandemic. The virus spreads quickly and is terminal for all infected. Thus, the world faces a die off greater than that of the Black Plague of the 14th Century. Roberts introduces the cast of characters mostly based in New York City as the pandemic gets its’ start.

From the beginning, the author prepares the reader for a departure from everyday characters. Individuals with unworldly powers are a major part of the story line. As such, some suspension of disbelief is required. Although you may already be open to the “Uncanny” as she calls them. For readers skeptical of supernatural powers, Roberts first takes a plausible approach. For example, Jonah, the paramedic, can sense death. Later character introductions stretch both their powers and the reader’s imagination.

Survival

Since the virus quickly kills off much of the population, Year One develops into a doomsday/survival story. Those immune to the virus feel compelled to leave the city. Their flights from the city are a large part of the story as some of the Uncanny are evil. Another threat comes from what remains of the government as it begins rounding up some of the survivors.

Roberts does a nice job of foreshadowing. In one instance, a newly introduced character talks of a cleansing of the people. In my case, this turned me off the individual even though he is presented as a good person. Eventually he shows his true colors. I liked how the writer uses both characters and plot to posit the key theme of good vs. evil.

I could describe this book as an action adventure detailing the escape of the characters from doom. Or the book could turn into one of those mid-October reads because of the heavy supernatural theme. However, even with the coupling of some major characters, I did not feel as though the book was a traditional romance where all works out with a happy ending.

Nora Roberts leaves the reader hanging with the ending of Year One since the lead character is separated from the rest in a surprise attack. The book is slated to have multiple sequels which I will look for. I would like to know if the character I bonded with the most managed to survive the battle. Naturally, there is also interest in the lead who escaped, heart-broken but alive, and with the promise of a savior.