Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Cobra Event

Richard Preston is best known for his nonfiction book The Hot Zone, a horrifying account of the Ebola virus, and other research based books. I was interested in reading his fiction book The Cobra Event. It is a chilling story about what a bioterrorist attack could look like today. Preston also has included in the story some of the history of bioweapons and information regarding bioengineering. If you want to be scared to death by a fiction book that is solidly grounded in fact and almost reads like nonfiction, The Cobra Event will fit that description.

The bioweapon used in Preston's The Cobra Event, is a genetically engineered viral brain pox being slowly "tested" on humans by one crazed man. After 2 suspicious deaths in NYC, the CDC sends Dr. Alice Austen to do the autopsy of a 17 year old girl who dies from this virus. The FBI is also called in and the search for what the virus is and who engineered it begins. There are several very vivid descriptions of autopsies and of the symptoms and ultimately the violent behavior the virus causes in humans (seizures, self cannibalism). This is a very gripping story because it is so based on real facts.

Ultimately, Richard Preston is a nonfiction writer and he writes like one. This isn't always bad, but it does mean that, for example, when describing his characters, he gives us just the facts. Do not expect lengthy descriptive passages that help develop well rounded characters. He gives us the basic information and then proceeds onto his fictionalized attack and real facts regarding bioweapons. His facts are gripping and the story certainly moves along, but The Cobra Event often reads like an nonfiction account of an event.
You'll never look at a runny nose the same way...

regarding tests of bioweapons in the Pacific:
"The problem with bioweapons was not that they didn't work, it was that they worked too well. They were remarkably powerful. They were difficult to defend against. They were cheap and easy to make, and while they depended upon the weather for their effectiveness, they were a good or even superior alternative to nuclear weapons, especially for countries that could not afford nuclear weapons."

"The Gulf War Syndrome is almost certainly caused by exposure to chemical weapons. But we have not yet ruled out the possibility that it's some kind of biological weapon."

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