Spiral

Spiral

by Paul McEuen

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679604358
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/22/2011
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 1,152,691
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Paul McEuen is the Goldwin Smith Professor of physics at Cornell University. He has received numerous awards for his research, including the Agilent Technologies Europhysics Prize, a Packard Fellowship, and a Presidential Young Investigator Award. He lives with his wife and five dogs in Ithaca, New York.

Read an Excerpt

PACIFIC OCEAN, MARCH 1946
 
LIAM CONNOR WAS SICK TO SEE IT, STANDING ON THE DECK of the USS North Dakota, binoculars trained on the sea. The truth was clear, the truth he saw in the binoculars, the four American sailors in the bright red lifeboat, all young and alive, none older than Connor himself.
 
“TURN BACK,” the commanding officer ordered through the megaphone.
 
“You can’t do this!” screamed one of the Americans. “I have a son. I’ve never seen my son!” He had his shirt off, waving it frantically back and forth, a fluttering white bird over the blue water. Two other men rowed.
 
“TURN AROUND. NOW.”
 
Warning shots spat out of the Oerlikon twenty-millimeter deck cannons, the noise deafening, rapid-fire jackhammers, a strafe line between the lifeboat and the USS North Dakota. The men vanished behind a wall of sea spray.
 
The mist settled, the sea again quiet. The tall one jumped up and down, waving his damned white shirt, threatening to topple the small boat. “Stop firing!” he shouted. “We are not sick!”
“He’s lying,” said the Army general Willoughby. Willoughby was a few feet away from Liam on the foredeck, watching through his own field glasses, his lips drawn back, teeth clenched. “See the way he moves? He’s jumping out of his skin.”
 
On the bridge, the commanding officer of the North Dakota raised his megaphone. “TURN AROUND. THIS IS YOUR LAST WARNING.”
 
Another spit of bullets from the guns, and the boat vanished again in a cloud of spray. This time the line was closer, near enough to soak the men. Connor saw fear clinging to their faces like the drops of water. If the gunner raised his sights by a few degrees, they’d be shredded.
 
The leader of the lifeboat sat down on the gunwale, the white shirt falling from his hands. The boat floated listlessly, slowly twisting while the four argued among themselves, their words carrying over the waves. The tall one pointed toward the North Dakota, shaking his head, mouthing the phrase No other way.
 
“The stupid bastards are coming,” Willoughby said.
 
The tall one stood, facing the North Dakota, held his white shirt overhead. “Go!” he called out, and the rowers began rowing, plowing the sea as hard and fast as they could.
 
The commander of the North Dakota stood straight. The megaphone hung at his side.
 
He gave a slight nod.
 
It was over in seconds. Two Oerlikons fired simultaneously, and the sea erupted. The lifeboat exploded red, fragmented into an array of splinters and planks of wood. In an instant, both the men and the lifeboat were gone, nothing left but the mist and a stain of flotsam and debris on the water.
 
Liam saw something moving, flopping on the surface. At first he thought it was a dying fish. But it wasn’t a fish. It was an arm, severed at the shoulder.
 
He vomited over the side of the ship.
 
 
LIAM CONNOR HAD SPENT FOUR YEARS IN THE BRITISH ARMY, but he had never seen men die like that. Liam was a small man, five-six, but strong-willed, wiry and tough. He was also Irish, with blond-red wavy hair and a complexion like putty stained with red ocher. He was tenacious, with a precocious, sharp mind and fast feet. He had started university at Cork at the age of fourteen and quickly established himself as a biology prodigy, on his way to a Ph.D. when the war intervened. He could also run a mile in just over four minutes fifteen seconds, making him the third fastest man in Ireland. He was a lieutenant, by the British Army’s reckoning more valuable as a scientist than a bullet catcher. Barely twenty-two years old, he’d spent the past four years at Porton Down, in the southwest English county of Wiltshire, the“center of British chemical and germ weapons research. His specialty was saprobic fungi, the feeders on the dead.
 
He was a scientist. He’d never seen men die like that, killed by their own brothers-in-arms.
 
TWO DAYS AGO HE’D BEEN IN GERMANY, AT A CHEMICAL FACTORY outside Munich. He was in the final weeks of his military service, a member of an Allied team conducting a postmortem of the Nazi chemical and germ warfare program. He expected to leave Germany within days, return to England and on to Ireland and his wife, Edith. They’d been married for almost three years, but in that time had spent less than ten days together. He missed her like he missed Ireland.
 
Thirty-six hours before, his plans had drastically changed. Liam was shoved on a troop transport plane in Munich with no explanation. Four flights later, he found himself halfway around the world, over the Pacific, circling a flotilla of U.S. Navy vessels. They’d strapped him in a parachute and ordered him out, the first parachute jump of his life. He’d been fished out of the sea and brought aboard the USS North Dakota just in time to see the slaughter of the four sailors.
 
The whole journey over, he’d been wondering why. They’d grabbed a lieutenant and shipped him across the globe. Now he was starting to understand. At Porton, they’d spent months preparing for what they believed inevitable, the use of germ weapons by the Nazis. The Germans had been the first to use poison gas on a large scale in World War I—few at Porton doubted that this time around, the Nazis would use germs. They’d been wrong. It was the Japanese.
 
 
LIAM’S POINT OF CONTACT ON THE USS NORTH DAKOTA WAS a gangly major named Andy Scilla. He was a microbiologist from Mississippi who’d trained at Harvard but kept his accent. Scilla was from Camp Detrick in Maryland, the American center of chemical and germ warfare, their equivalent of Porton Down. “I’ll be your date while you’re here,” he said, his drawl at first difficult for Liam to follow. But he got used to it, got to like it. It reminded him of some of the boggers back home.
 
Liam spent his first hour with Scilla in a small cabin three doors down from the communications room. Here, Scilla said, they had copies of the medical records of the men on the infected ship, the USS Vanguard, along with a series of files they’d brought from Tokyo, giving background on what was happening. They were stored in a series of metal lockers to keep out the ever-present saltwater. Scilla gave Liam the chain of events: “Five days ago, the ship those men came from, the USS Vanguard, picked up a distress call from the Japanese sub out there, the I-17. No one could figure it out. Hell, it’s been six months since the end of the war. Where’s a Jap sub been hiding all that time?
 
“Once the Vanguard arrived, they found the I-17 dead in the water. They tried to establish radio contact, but they got zip. Absolutely nothing. But they could see a single Japanese soldier on the bow of the sub. Just sitting there. They hollered at him, but he didn’t move a muscle. So they sent a team to board.
 
“What they found was a nightmare. The entire crew, maybe a hundred men, sliced open like gutted fish. From the looks of it, they had committed hara-kiri en masse. All except that one Japanese soldier, alone on the bow of the sub. He looked catatonic, cross-legged, back straight, staring forward like a statue. The leader of the boarding crew, a chief petty officer named Maddox, thought he was in traumatic shock. But that wasn’t it. Not at all. He waited until they were practically next to him. Then he sliced himself open, shoved a grenade in his belly, and blew himself to bits.”
 
“Suicide?” Liam asked. The Japanese were cultish about their honor and death—surrender was a mortal sin.
 
“Not exactly. That took a while to figure out. Why blow yourself to bits right when the soldiers get there? If he was a kamikaze, he would’ve attacked, thrown the grenade at the boarding crew. Plus, they had plenty of weapons below, plenty of guns, lots of ammo. He could have killed quite a few of our men.
 
“No one really got it worked out for about twelve hours. The key was the boarding crew, the sailors that had been there when the bastard blew himself to bits. The leader, Maddox, took a pretty good whack to the head. He woke up two hours later in the Vanguard’s sick bay, asking about his men. Everyone was more or less fine. But eight hours later, in the bed next to Maddox, Smithson begins to display unusual symptoms. A depressed temperature, an unpleasant smell about him. An hour later, Smithson is scratching wildly at his skin and has to be physically restrained. He is incoherent, raving. Twenty hours later, Maddox is no better. He is certain that iron-skinned snakes are living in his belly, feeding on his intestines. From these two, it spread throughout the ship.”
 
Liam understood. “The Jap was a vector. A germ bomb.”
 
“Got it.”
 
“And the rest of the boarding crew?”
 
“Maddox is dead. He got loose, grabbed a knife, and stabbed himself to death. Just kept shoving it in his gut again and again until he bled out. The doc on the Vanguard counted twenty-two separate entrance wounds. Smithson’s still alive, but he bit off his own tongue. Spit it out on the floor in front of him, laughing madly the whole time. Reports say it’s a complete nightmare over there. A day or two after infection, you begin to completely lose it. Go violently crazy. One guy seemed perfectly normal until he locked himself in the galley with four sailors, shot them in the guts, then stomped on their skulls until a few others broke in and put a bullet in him. Everyone is paranoid. As soon as you show any symptoms, they tie you down. They ran out of beds and are roping men to their bunks, to piping on the walls, everything.”
 
“Holy Christ. How many are infected?”
 
“One hundred eighty-eight,” Scilla said. “Of those, thirty-two have died. And they’re losing a few more each hour.”
 
“Clinical symptoms?”
 
“Their temperatures run a couple of degrees low.”
 
“And their smell? You said there was an odor?”
 
“Yes. Sour.”
 
“Ammonia? Like urine?”
 
“That’s it.”
 
“I’ll tell you what it sounds like. It sounds like mycotoxin poisoning,” Connor said. “Maybe Claviceps purpurea. Ergot. Or one of the species of Fusarium.”
 
Scilla nodded. “That’s why we brought you here. We’re all germ people. Bacterial. But we got nobody with a background in fungi, so we called Porton. And they sent you.”
 
“Anything else? Other physical signs?”
 
“A few of the men have spiral growths in their mouths.”
 
“A pale white? Like candy floss? Cotton candy?”
 
“That’s just the way they described it.”
 
“How many are still symptom-free?”
 
“Less than forty now.”
 
Liam tried to take it all in. He had never heard of virulence like this. The entire ship in four days?
 
Scilla grabbed a thick manila folder and dropped it on the table. The cover said TOP SECRET. “Read this. I’ll be in the comm room when you’re done.”
 

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Spiral 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 35 reviews.
Kataman1 More than 1 year ago
This is another scary technological thriller. It is scary because the author makes it almost inevitable that something similar to this is bound to happen in the near future. An aged scientist (Liam) who studies fungi seems to commit suicide jumping off a bridge. Further investigation indicates that he died as the result of running away from a mysterious Asian woman (codenamed Orchid) and not an actual suicide. His granddaughter Maggie and one of his technical assistants, Jake determine that maybe his death had something to do with his work. Everything seems to lead back to a biological fungus based weapon that he had attained at the end of WW II. It seems that this weapon may pose a modern day threat and the introduction of microbots (insect-like microsized robots). Liam left behind some clues to Jake and Maggie as to what he has been working on all the years since WW II and it is up to Jake and Maggie with the help of Maggie's son Dylan to find out. The National Security Agency also has an interest in Liam's death and piece together that the country is facing one of its greatest threats ever. They need to locate both Jake and Maggie to prevent a biological disaster from taking down the country. Jake and Maggie are also being pursued by the deadly Orchid and most not only solve Liam's riddles but must stay out of her clutches. The story builds in intensity to a very tense climax. The book is a fast read and even when you finish you start to think about how what is depicted in the book can actually happen! Extremely thought provoking and a scary look at the near future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Paul McEuen has written a terrific technothriller marrying nanotechnology with biowarfare in a most chilling way. His personal background as Goldwin Smith Professor of Physics at Cornell gives his work tremendous legitimacy. His writing is crisp and well structured. It is rare when my stress level actually goes up when I am reading. There is no question that Spiral had that effect on me numerous times. While disturbing, it was nevertheless a great read.
lit-in-the-last-frontier More than 1 year ago
Short Version An enthralling debut thriller whose plot spans almost seventy years, two continents, and the life of a bioterrorism threat. Long Version I really hate over-hyped books. They invariably disappoint. As soon as I read a friend's review of this one, I knew that this was one of those drop-everything-else-on-my-reading-list-and-read-this-now kind of books. It just had me written all over it. My favorite thrillers are generally those involving international politics and relations. This one combined those aspects with biology and nanotechnology and produces as a result an intellectual adrenaline rush. Crafting a plot for a thriller requires that tricky balance of pacing and credibility-and credibility is often stretched to keep up the pace. Many times a thriller has left me flat because the plot was simply not believable. Not so here. Due to the excellent descriptions of the biological and technological elements involved, this one is downright unsettling. I had no trouble envisioning the events unfolding on today's world stage. It has been a long time since a book has drawn me in so completely. I started this one in a waiting room yesterday afternoon, read in fits and starts (think drive-through line and dance class), and until NyQuil had me nodding off at bedtime. Today I read between assisting on math problems, cursive, and reading picture books (we homeschool), finishing during our lunch break. Generally, I do not read during the day, but this book was unputdownable. This book should appeal to a very large audience. The plot was not at all bogged down despite the hefty dose of science, the characters were well developed and evolved as the plot moved forward, and even the settings were easily visualized. I hope that Paul McEuen's day job as a physics professor and researcher at Cornell University do not impede the publication of his next novel. He will, I have no doubt, have a number of readers watching his web page in anticipation.
mainrun on LibraryThing 8 months ago
If you are female, good looking (...hi and thanks for reading this review...;) don't go off by yourself when there is a killer on the loose. Any book where this happens automatically loses a star from me. Otherwise this was a fun read.
SuseGordon on LibraryThing 8 months ago
A fast paced thriller with bio terrorism dating back to WWII into the present with nanotechnology ramping up the threat.Liam Connor is a scientist who works with fungus and in his youth was with the British war effort involving bio terrorism. Now in his 80's and a well loved/respected scientist at Cornell College, he has continued his research into the Uzumaki, an engineered threat from WWII that still has the potential to devastate the human population in the wrong hands. His granddaughter, great-grandson, and a friend/associate from Cornell are dragged into the terror by a Chinese agent seeking the hidden tube of Uzumali and the possible cure that Connor has kept secret and hidden.A well-written book. The characters can still be developed more, especially if they return in another book. The fungi, science and nano technology had more detail as the primary threat and characters(?).
KevinJoseph on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Few techno-thriller writers manage to fuse believable, cutting edge science with the heart-thumping suspense and sure hand of a seasoned thriller spinner. Cornell Professor Paul McEuen does just that with Spiral, a biotech thriller that uses the seeds of a Japanese World War II-era biotech program as the basis for a modern doomsday scenario. This thriller has it all, from multi-dimensional characters, to diabolical villains, to swift pacing, to a plot that will keep you guessing until the end. Set primarily in and around Ithaca, New York, Spiral paints a great picture of Cornell University's campus, something I appreciated having done my undergraduate studies there. But even when McEuen jumps to Washington, D.C. and elsewhere he never loses his footing or sacrifices believability. The author also writes with a cinematic flair, creating some great set-piece scenes and leaving me hopeful that I'll be able to experience this story a second time on the big screen.
careburpee on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Short VersionAn enthralling debut thriller whose plot spans almost seventy years, two continents, and the life of a bioterrorism threat.Long VersionI really hate over-hyped books. They invariably disappoint. As soon as I read a friend¿s review of this one, I knew that this was one of those drop-everything-else-on-my-reading-list-and-read-this-now kind of books. It just had me written all over it.My favorite thrillers are generally those involving international politics and relations. This one combined those aspects with biology and nanotechnology and produces as a result an intellectual adrenaline rush. Crafting a plot for a thriller requires that tricky balance of pacing and credibility-and credibility is often stretched to keep up the pace. Many times a thriller has left me flat because the plot was simply not believable. Not so here. Due to the excellent descriptions of the biological and technological elements involved, this one is downright unsettling. I had no trouble envisioning the events unfolding on today¿s world stage.It has been a long time since a book has drawn me in so completely. I started this one in a waiting room yesterday afternoon, read in fits and starts (think drive-through line and dance class), and until NyQuil had me nodding off at bedtime. Today I read between assisting on math problems, cursive, and reading picture books (we homeschool), finishing during our lunch break. Generally, I do not read during the day, but this book was unputdownable.This book should appeal to a very large audience. The plot was not at all bogged down despite the hefty dose of science, the characters were well developed and evolved as the plot moved forward, and even the settings were easily visualized. I hope that Paul McEuen¿s day job as a physics professor and researcher at Cornell University do not impede the publication of his next novel. He will, I have no doubt, have a number of readers watching his web page in anticipation.
tottman on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Spiral is a well-crafted bio/techno thriller. It ranges from the end of World War II to the present day.Liam Connor is an interesting protagonist. An 80 plus year old nobel laureate who works with fungus. The fact that you come to care about him and his family and colleagues as much as you do is a testament to good writing.Like any good thriller, it is a real page-turner. It¿s not heavy on the action, but the action sequences that do occur are done well. The real tension comes from the growing bio-threat and the attempts to unravel clues and find the solution. The characters are developed well enough to keep you invested in what happens to them. The motivations of some of the characters remain a little murky, even at the end, but not enough to detract from the story. Given that the subject matter involves both bioterrorism as well as nanotech, there is the occasional techno-babble, but not so much that it slows you down. It is a quick, fun read with some really interesting ideas.
suetu on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Two of my very favorite things are auspicious debut novels and really smart techno-thrillers. Kudos to physicist Paul McEuen, Spiral is both. The novel opens with a gripping prologue set in March 1946 on a U.S. Navy ship in the South Pacific. World War II is over, but the Japanese have reserved one devastating weapon for their endgame.In that prologue we are introduced to biologist Dr. Liam Connor, who saves not only the day, but perhaps the world. At 22, the Irishman is at the very beginning of a prodigious career. We next meet him 64 years later. Now the 86-year-old Nobel laureate is one of the most distinguished and beloved professors at Cornell. And he¿s still vital as well, actively engaged in research that spans from his specialization in fungi to the very frontiers of nanotechnology. ¿Though Liam was a biologist, he loved the wonderful precision of all this technology, the miniature landscapes of almost impossibly intricate detail that were created¿Liam believed that a second wave was coming¿one even bigger than the information revolution. When the technologies of the information age were applied to biology, life would become an engineering discipline. Using tools such as microfluidic labs-on-a-chip, PCR machines, and assemblers such as the Micro-Crawlers, you¿d be able to make living cells the way you made computer chips, process DNA like so many ones and zeros. He was incredibly excited. He thought that in five years he¿d be making fungi from scratch.¿Ah, doesn¿t it make you want to grab a textbook! No? Maybe it¿s just me. And, relax, I pulled a very technical quote because clearly I love that stuff. The novel is so very satisfyingly smart, but it¿s also fully accessible to any lay reader. Dr. McEuen must be a pretty impressive lecturer himself, and he¿s writing about a world and subjects he knows intimately.Now, a lot of gee whiz science does not a thriller make. Thrillers require plot and pacing and character, and McEuen supplies them all in spades. I¿m sorry, don¿t get too attached to lovely Liam, as his death¿well, murder¿is the main catalyst of a plot that centers on his scientist granddaughter, Maggie, teaming up with Jake Sterling, the young nanotech expert who was Liam¿s close associate. While at first they¿re trying to understand why Liam appears to have killed himself, soon they¿re unraveling clues Liam left from beyond the grave. Their path of discovery is engrossing, and the threat they uncover is terrifying.I haven¿t really told you much at all. Why should I? The pleasure is in the twists and turns along the way. The plot is there. The pacing is excellent. I flew through the novel in no time at all. And perhaps most impressive, all things considered, is McEuen¿s deft touch with his characters. Not only does he do an excellent job fleshing out his central characters, he¿s populated the novel with rich, colorful, and interesting secondary characters.As I said, it¿s a freakin¿ auspicious debut! I know that Dr. McEuen has a fairly heavy-duty day job as a physicist and professor. I can only hope that he¿s able to continue to carve out time for fiction.
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tottman More than 1 year ago
Spiral is a well-crafted bio/techno thriller. It ranges from the end of World War II to the present day. Liam Connor is an interesting protagonist. An 80 plus year old nobel laureate who works with fungus. The fact that you come to care about him and his family and colleagues as much as you do is a testament to good writing. Like any good thriller, it is a real page-turner. It's not heavy on the action, but the action sequences that do occur are done well. The real tension comes from the growing bio-threat and the attempts to unravel clues and find the solution. The characters are developed well enough to keep you invested in what happens to them. The motivations of some of the characters remain a little murky, even at the end, but not enough to detract from the story. Given that the subject matter involves both bioterrorism as well as nanotech, there is the occasional techno-babble, but not so much that it slows you down. It is a quick, fun read with some really interesting ideas.
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luckyX3 More than 1 year ago
Breathless pull-quotes not withstanding, Spiral was a disappointment, more on the order of a James Bond plot than the gritty thriller I was led to expect. There's great source material here, with nanotechnology, WWII bioweapons research, and a hint of zombie chic, but the whole is depressingly shallow, with cookie cutter characters and nothing more than a gloss of tech. The bad guys are cartoonishly bad: a long imprisoned Japanese scientist captured at the end of WWII who engineers a Machiavellian plot to destroy the West from his prison cell, using his hired Chinese ninja, unimaginatively named Orchid. Orchid continues the Bond villain stereotype, just to make sure you get the point that she's one of the bad guys, delighting in killing innocent bystanders and reveling in torture. She's opposed by an ex-soldier turned nanotech researcher, who is able to identify a bomb by its LED countdown display, and engage in action movie feats of athleticism in order to save the woman he probably loves, just in time for her to save her son, who is infected by a deadly fungal bio-agent, one that turns its victims into psychotic killers before they expire. The action in this story would have you laughing out loud if you saw it on the big screen; here it's just depressing. If you want a good infectious disease thriller, go back to Preston's "Hot Zone", or rent 28 Days Later. If you want a creepier, more speculative take on the fungal threat, I highly recommend Jeff Van der Meer's "Finch". This is a spiral that goes nowhere.
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