||Nov. 10, 2010
Barnes & Noble
When the seeds of death are sown into the very blueprints of life, no one is safe . . . A terrifying new bio-weapon, an unconventional here, and a fast-paced tale torn from tomorrow's headlines.
Someone is trying to resurrect ancient viruses hidden deep within the human genetic code to create a biological weapon so specific that it can target an individual -- or an entire race. When two young prodigies discover their "medical research" is being used to build this weapon, they seek outside help to destroy it and to flee China. Help comes in the unlikely guise of Jon Gunderson -- docotr, bio-weapons expert, and devoted family man whose unsuspecting wife and nine children have unwittingly accompanied him on yet another assignment. Once the truth comes to light, the Gundersons will have to set aside their differences if they hope to rescue the prodigies and escape with their lives. The fate of the world hangs in the balance as the bittersweet dynamics of a large but loving family take center stage against the backdrop of China's breathtaking landscapes.
Chen had spent the first half of his day like any other, sitting at his desk, tapping away on his laptop. It served as the link between him and the complex tangle of computer servers he used to test his theories about artificial intelligence, or artificial intuition, as he called it.
Artificial intuition had proven better than expected. Far better. He had found that he could use it to make remarkably accurate predictions about how genetic material would behave under almost any given set of circumstances. He could even make reasonable predictions about extra-genetic inheritance --specifically, how and when methyl groups would bind to DNA and activate or deactivate certain genes without changing the underlying code itself.
In essence, artificial intuition could analyze an intricately complex system and do the seemingly impossible: It could predict the future.
But predictions about genetics weren't the only thing artificial intuition was good for. There was also the stock market. Chen had experienced especially good luck in that area, and his boss, Director Lao, had been particularly pleased. He had insisted that Chen provide weekly reports, and Lao's new Porsche Turbo had appeared shortly thereafter, amongst other things. That little side project alone had done more to keep him in the Director's good graces than anything else.
Then there was the issue of hacking into other less sophisticated computer systems. Artificial intuition was well suited for that, too. Exceptionally well suited. Better, even, than he was willing to let his superiors know. Chen didn't want them to suspect how much snooping around he had been doing of late. But he'd been doing a lot.
One of his early projects had been to remotely hack into the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, from his lab in Beijing. Technically, hacking was too strong a term. As one of China's leading computer scientists, Chen was actually an invited guest. But he was the kind of guest who rummaged through drawers and nosed into medicine cabinets. As the only country with censorship power over Google's massive database, China had greater access to the inner workings of Google than anyone else on the planet. That was all the invitation Chen needed.
He had been looking for some very specific things. First, he had wanted a detailed understanding of Google's algorithms and architecture. He felt that those two things would help him to refine his own system, and so they had. Second, Chen had wanted a sneak peek at the massive genetics database Google was building. This, in turn, would give him a head start on the research that he and Jung Ying were conducting.
The thing that Chen had found, without really meaning to, was his own conscience -- that internal scale that weighs right from wrong. It had simply shown up one day like a stray dog that wouldn't go away. And, yes, Chen had made the mistake of feeding it.
It had all begun with Google's motto: Don't Be Evil. He'd stared at that simple phrase as if it were a road sign in a foreign language, striving to squeeze some small piece of meaning from it. He'd even asked Director Lao about it. Lao had told him there's no such thing as evil.
"There is only power and those who have the courage to use it," he'd explained. "The rest is illusion, an opiate for the weak."
Chen felt certain there must be something more to it than that.
He had asked a few of his coworkers, but most of them just talked about the yin and yang of life. How there is a little evil in every good and a little good in every evil. That good and evil are just two sides of the same coin. That one would not exist without the other.
But Chen was unsure.
Then someone had pointed out that evil couldn't exist alone. "Evil," it was suggested, "is just a corruption or misuse of something good. A hammer can be used to build a home, or to crush a skull. Same tool, different uses. One good, one evil." That was what really got Chen thinking.
The world is full of tools. Some of them are simple, like a hammer. Some of them are more complex, like the computer program he had designed. The more powerful the tool, then the greater its capacity for good or evil. Nuclear energy can be used to provide electricity for an entire city, or to level it.
But what about artificial intuition? Would it be misused? Was it already being misused? Was cancer research really its ultimate goal, as he had been led to believe, or would artificial intuition eventually be twisted and used for evil?
Those were the questions that had prompted Chen to snoop around. Using the techniques he had developed to hack computers on the other side of the planet, he now began to hack those in his own backyard.
What he discovered terrified him. It was as though he saw his life's work as a photo negative of everything he had pictured it to be. Everything light was dark, and everything dark was light. He learned that his work was being used more for the military than for medicine. Indeed, there seemed to be greater interest in causing cancer than in curing it.
But the biggest thrust of all seemed to center on endogenous retroviruses. Someone in the government wanted to resurrect those ancient diseases and turn them into weapons. And they were using his technology to do it. Chen understood how Alfred Nobel must have felt when he realized people were using dynamite to blow each other apart.
But what could he do? He was only one person. There was a big machine at work, and he was just a small part of that machine. Granted, he was a very important part. Without him, without his artificial intuition, would the entire machine grind to a halt? He wasn't sure, but he knew he had to try. He had to get out, and he would need to sabotage his own creation when he fled.
But to whom could he turn? The Russians? They would gladly use his research for the very same purposes and worse if they could. The Japanese? They had hated the Chinese for centuries and would love to help in principle, but they weren't prepared for an international showdown with the thousand pound gorilla China had become.
The same could be said for the rest of Asia. Europe, as well. Africa, South America, Australia? Forget it. The United States had been his only realistic option.
Chen heard a door opening down the hall from his office. Someone was coming. He quickly logged off the government mainframe. He was daydreaming again, and it was making him sloppy. He was good at hiding his electronic tracks, but if someone actually caught him in the act, he'd have a hard time explaining himself. He didn't want to think of the consequences.
The door to his office popped open. There stood Hui Tong, Director Lao's stoic bodyguard. His meaty face and hands were pockmarked with a latticework of tiny scars. It was the accumulation of a lifetime of giving and receiving blows.
"The Director wishes to see you immediately," announced Hui in his usual terse tone. His eyes were fixed on Chen's computer screen.
"Is something wrong?" Chen asked, following Hui's eyes to the computer.
I'm a big fan of Tom Clancy's and Joel Rosenberg's thrillers. Crisp writing, tight action, heart-stopping suspense, believable and compatible characters, minimal dirt and foul language--don't bother me now ... I'm reading!
The Prodigy Project, by Doug Flanders, meets my standards and kept me reading far past bedtime, even when I had to teach the next morning. I got a complimentary copy of the book through the BookCrash program, which encourages authors and small publishers by posting reviews of their books. And reviewing this book is a pleasure indeed!
Complaints? I want to read the rest of the series now, and I don't even know if there is a rest-of-the-series. I had trouble keeping the narrator's kids straight in my mind (he has nine). I wanted a bit more about Jung's decision.
Otherwise, even the surprise plot twist didn't deter me. I went, "Oh--really?" read back a few chapters to see if I'd missed any signals, admired the author's finesse, and leapt back into the story.
I can't tell you anything about the plot--it's exciting, reasonably plausible, multi-layered, clean but not sticky-sweet (far from it!), and well thought-through. Adults will enjoy it. Teens will enjoy it. I know some 10-12 year olds who are going to get it for Christmas and who will revel in it!
Flanders is a medical doctor and parent of 12. I really hate to sound hokey, but ... this is an author worth watching. He's going to go far in this branch of his career. Don't start The Prodigy Project if you've got a deadline coming up, but don't miss it!
The Duggars Do the CIA: Well
The Duggars are conscripted by the CIA--well, not really. The dad is a doctor who was conscripted without his real knowledge or agreement. This is a doctor who deals with biological weapons of mass destruction often using his wife and many children as cover (and he hasn't told them yet). This time they have an invite to go to China for a geography competition (but that's peripheral to the story). The author is a doctor who has a bunch of kids and the family helped write the book.
Don't tell anyone, but the kids are the stars of the book. The spy himself is a bit of a dolt, yet he gets the job done after a lot of physical pain described as only a doctor could. His wife is a true gem. The young adult children are wise far beyond their years. It still surprises me how believable this story is.
So, it is tense, believable, enjoyable, and engrossing. I had a hard time putting it down. The proposed mass bio-weapon is convincingly explained and scary. It can be used to target specific types of people genetically. The bad guys are really bad. The problem is severe. The characters are engaging and real. The dialog is genuine. It's a fun read. There are no heads exploding in a red mist, no naked sluts, no preaching, just a good family who must be believers to judge by how they react to trouble, danger, and need. I definitely recommend this one.
Great thriller -- easy to read with excellent detail and character development
Doug Flander's, The Prodigy Project, is a medical thriller crafted around the author's personal experiences and lifestyle. Flanders utilizes 15 years of experience as an Army reservist and almost two decades of medical practice to write an intriguing story with excellent, thorough, and believable detail.
The story captivates the imagination of readers with a plot centered around an operation to awaken dormant viruses within human DNA in effort to create a biological weapon powerful enough to give its master control of the globe and the future of humanity. The discovery of the operation by two young Chinese researchers leads them to contact the United States with information about the operation and attempt to flee China before their actions are realized. Jon Gunderson, a doctor and an expert in bio-weaponry, comes to their aid with his wife and nine children in unknowing accompaniment. When plans for rescue begin to go awry, Jon must face his family and admit his dishonesty about his work but his family must reconcile their anger and disappointment if they are to rescue the young informants and leave China with their family intact. As the large and closely-knit family seeks to leave China in safety, Jon must also be mindful of the earth shattering consequences of failure to remove the researchers and foil the virus-reviving operation.
The novel is 327 pages of exciting and realistic detail complemented by a thrilling storyline and the broad knowledge base of the author. Flanders clearly describes scenes with excellent detail of landscapes, physical and emotional conditions, relationships, and communication between characters. He develops his characters extensively allowing readers to feel as though they know them but not to the extent that their actions and decisions are predictable. Flanders' attention to detail and medical expertise also contribute to the quality of this novel as he is able to craft scenes of medical complexity that can be easily understood by lay readers. The author's love for family (and big ones!) is clearly communicated in this novel and he is able to draw from firsthand experience in organizing and portraying a large family within the pages of the work.
Readers will be easily caught up in the excellent story-telling and will experience difficulty setting the book aside. The work is well suited for both teenaged and adult readers.
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