I have a huge ego. To keep its luster, I keep it away from embarrassing situations. Naturally, I was a bit intimidated when I followed a stray link from Booktrib to the website of Havard grad, former Cal State Professor, Amy Rogers, MD/PhD. I know several PhDs and find myself constantly steering their conversations away from topics that will make me feel like a mere mortal at the foot of Mount Olympus. Topics like chemistry, physics, geology, math, news, weather, and … yeah. Well. Anyway. So I asked myself, do I want to read a book that’s probably filled with polysyllabic words I’ll have to look up?
I’d followed the link because something about the concept of petroleum plague intrigued me. Sounds impossible, right? So I read a few pages, bought the ebook, added it to my 12-book-deep “to-read” pile, and figured I’d get to it eventually. But the premise kept calling me: what is a petroleum plague? And do I want to humiliate myself in a vainglorious attempt to find out?
Sure, why not? Like 50 Shades, who would ever know?
I dove in.
This is the best science-thriller I’ve read this year. Maybe ever.
You might think a PhD-level science story would be short on thrills. You’d be wrong. You might think a book by a certifiable genius might be hard to read. You’d be wrong. You might think, this is gonna hurt my brain the way A Brief History of Time hurt my brain. You’d be wrong. Well, some of you.
Every scientific concept in Petroplague is not only accessible, it’s crystal clear. Not like other science-thrillers where you just go along with it. You know what I mean, those “trace evidence” stories that have you skimming through arcane bits about molecular science, accepting them because you’re afraid they’re so full of baloney that knowing better would ruin the book you just paid $15 for? Petroplague is not like that. Not at all. It not only makes sense, it teaches you everything you need to know to grasp the story—and then some.
Plausibility, originality, and thrills make the thriller.
Realistic details create plausibility. James Rollins said, “If you get the location of the Starbucks in Kathmandu exactly right, it buys you enough credibility to make the reader believe in telepathic marsupials.” Doctor Rogers goes well beyond that standard. In easy to follow theories, she builds your understanding of exactly why modern society will inevitably collapse. Half way through, you’ll be running for your doomsday bunker. (You don’t have one? You will after you read this book.) Her scenario is not only plausible, it’s real.
Originality, the second component of a great thriller, is where our new fave author shines. Remember how your interest in apocalyptic nuclear scenarios waned when the Berlin Wall came down? Professor-Doctor Amy Rogers offers an original scenario so incredibly realistic as it spills off the pages that you’ll want to top off your tank and get busy on that bunker. If gasoline no longer worked, civilization as we know it would break down. Throughout this thrilling novel, that fact is brought home in tossed details like airplanes falling from the sky and emergency responders unable to respond. Petroplague takes your notions of the apocalypse and turns them upside down. We are one bacteria-mutation away from meltdown.
Above all, thrillers have to thrill. There are passages in this book that will not let you put it down. Even though the heroine of this story, a lowly grad student named Christina González, never kills anyone (unusual for a thriller, I know) she keeps readers on the edge of their seats from the early going. Her friends make heroic transformations, the villains step ever lower on the rungs of villainy, and the love interest blossoms … um, organically. Every decision the characters make is the one you would have made. And every danger they face an unpredictable, yet logical twist. And every page you turn, another heart-stopping thrill.
The best thing about reading any book is the learning aspect. I like to feel just a little smarter for having read a book. It’s the education factor that keeps me coming back to authors like James Rollins and Clive Cussler. (I have to consult Wikipedia before, during, and after reading Rollins’ books. I know about the explanations at the back of the book but those are like letting the fox guard the henhouse, don’t you think? And let’s just go with whatever Mr. Cussler tells us about history, OK?) What you get with Harvard grad, Professor-Doctor Amy Rogers, PhD is not a little smarter—you get a whole new education on diverse topics such as bacteria, geology, doomsday cults, petroleum reserves, dependence and much more.
It even made me smarter.
I know, right?
At the dinner table, I was able to tell my two teenagers, “Did you know Syntrophus converts into hydrogen, acetic acid and carbon dioxide?” You can imagine their expressions. And later, during an elegant dinner party at a mansion, I casually worked into the conversation, “The most valuable hydrocarbons in petroleum are simple straight-chain alkanes like hexane.” A real show stopper, that. (Our hostess responded by saying, “Uh-huh … Anyway, Nieman’s shoes are five percent off tomorrow.” I gotta find new swine for these pearls if I’m going to keep reading Amy Rogers.)
While I make light of it here, underlying those anecdotes is the fact that I understood those important concepts while reading the story. It is her ability to make us comprehend complex models that separates Amy Rogers from all other science authors.
If you like Kathy Reichs, Patricia Cornwell, James Rollins, Jeffery Deaver, or any other science-leaning thriller, you will love Petroplague and Amy Rogers. To quote a line from Petroplague, it is “the work of a meticulous, original thinker.”
Best science thriller of the year!
If you are the science-thriller evangelist in your circle of friends, read and recommend this book.
Peace, Seeley James
PS: I twisted her considerable degrees around for fun. Her resume is actually: Harvard undergraduate in Biochemical Sciences; MD/PhD from Washington University; and former biology professor at California State University—And now, GREAT author.
PPS: I opened James Rollins’ BLOODLINE and read the acknowledgments. Who was listed there? Who is among Rollins’ pre-release readers? Yep. Amy.