I'm taking a break this week from the regular Friday's "Forgotten" Books feature to take some Author R&R (Research and Reference) with Dorian Paul, a/k/a Dorrie Parini and Paul LaFerriere, author of the biological thriller Risking the World. Dorrie and Paul have always finished each other's sentences and shared an entrepreneurial passion. For nearly three decades they have worked with Fortune 500 pharmaceutical and biotech companies to explain breakthroughs in genetic engineering, immunology, cancer research and many other areas. Dorrie has a BS in English and Biology and an MA in English (Penn State) with advanced courses in science writing. Paul has a BS from Amherst College where he studied English and Mathematics.
From Dorrie and Paul:
As our world advances, so do our chances of coming up against catastrophic disaster and every new cure has the potential to turn deadly. Ancient agents – the bubonic plague, smallpox, and botulism – lie dormant in laboratories, ever ready to emerge in new, potentially bioengineered forms. This is how the stage has been set in Risking the World.
The heroine, American scientist Claire Ashe, finds herself thrust into the middle of a massive terrorist plot not even the global intelligence community is prepared for. The terror plot at the heart of Risking the World revolves around a rapidly lethal bioengineered form of tuberculosis designed to purposely infect kids. The science used to foil the horror is not only plausible, but the technology has already garnered Nobel prizes.
Risking the World is a biological thriller. For starters, that meant we had to get the science right for it to be plausible enough to grip and hold the reader.
On that score we had a leg up, because we'd worked together to build a science writing company of 100+. We'd interviewed experts who developed cutting edge medical advances, and knew from experience how to sift through peer-reviewed journals to find articles with a spark of originality and promise. So, the research tools were familiar to us.
The challenge lay in using those tools to pluck the very best from the published research, and extend that knowledge into unknown realms. Our aim was to create a fictional world in which all the science we described was real, but the terrifying ways in which it was put to use had yet to be seen.
Selecting the right disease for our bio-threat was our first and most central research question. We put aside writing about a biological agent everyone's already heard of, like anthrax or plague, as old hat. Instead, we looked for a disease that our readers would recognize—but not think of as dangerous.
Tuberculosis had much to offer. Book lovers might recognize it as the disease that killed John Keats, and some might even know that George Orwell used the royalties from 1984 to import streptomycin for his TB treatment. While these historical examples echo a distant past, not a dangerous present, the current situation is not at all rosy. TB ranks second only to HIV/AIDS as the cause of death from infectious disease globally, and the WHO estimates that as of 2010 nearly one-third of the world's population was infected with TB.
Fortunately, most of these individuals have a latent (dormant) form of this slow growing disease. But what if an evil genius were to discover what our leading researchers have yet to elucidate – the secret to the switch that turns TB's reproduction cycle on and off? Could the good guys who are investigating protein kinases and messenger molecules be on the right track, but a step behind the bad guys? And what if those bad guys succeed in bio-engineering an explosively lethal form of TB that kills just about every young kid exposed to it?
Now the scientists in our novel who wear the white hats must play catch up, big time. The heroine, Claire Ashe, is an immunobiologist who's spent her budding career trying to uncover the reproductive secrets of TB in hopes of developing a viable vaccine. She's leading the team tasked with finding an antidote to the deadly TB strain created by the man who solved the scientific puzzle she failed to unravel – and used the knowledge to kill rather than cure.
Why choose a brainy female as our heroine? Because we believe in promoting women in science. You might not know this, but even though women represent about 60% of college graduates in the U.S., men represent about 60% of those in science. Since women are over 50% of the U.S. population, it's time we took advantage of all the female brainpower out there to keep our science position in the world. Unbelievably, a UNESCO report indicates 13 Muslim countries produce a higher percentage of women science graduates than the U.S.
We'd served with women like Claire on deadline driven international teams, so we knew what she was up against as team leader. This allowed us to populate our pages with a group of the best and brightest – and endow them with appropriately cantankerous personalities. But the scientific team assembled in Risking the World needed to be equipped with the right weapons to fight back – and nanotechnology fit the bill.
Nanotechnology has garnered multiple Nobel prizes in recent years. It refers to techniques in which scientists manipulate matter on the atomic and molecular levels to create wholly novel structures not found in nature. Whoa, you say, that sounds scary. Except, of course, it's not at all scary to the scientists involved, who've named one of their earliest creations 'Bucky Balls' after Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome. But Bucky Balls become scary to Claire Ashe when she sees how her nemesis has used them.
Of course, we've only touched on the science research here, but other research was required for our villain, whose motivation lay within the world of the personal. Even while plotting to unleash his TB bioweapon on children in Paris, London Tel Aviv, and New York, he remains obsessed with reconstituting his grandfather's antique weapon collection, which was confiscated after he was murdered when the Shah of Iran was deposed. Research relating to this weapon collection came from the epic Persian poem, Shahnameh, as well as collections detailed in books and visited by us at the Wallace Musuem in London.
In the age of the crusades, European armorers struggled to create swords that could stand up against the watered steel blades forged by their Persian foes. In Risking the World, evil scientists use nanotechnology to create a protective shell for their lethal TB. Claire's team, seeking a cure, uses it to penetrate those defenses. Scientists such as Claire are the modern day armorers, waging war at the molecular level on our behalf.
We hope you take a risk on Risking the World by Dorian Paul. It is available through Amazon.com as an eBook and trade paperback. For more information about us, and the science behind Risking the World, visit our website at www.dorianpaul.com.
Risking the World is available in print and ebook format from Amazon.com. Your purchase of Risking the World helps support TB research via contributions by Dorian Paul, who donates a portion of the revenue from book sales to organizations fighting this deadly disease.