Book Note: The Cobra Event

Labor Day comes late this year, so I can still get away with summer reading, right?

The Cobra Event, written by Richard Preston, imagines the menace of biological terrorism in a post-cold war, but pre-9/11, New York City.  Fortunately for New York, a plucky epidemiologist whose father was in law enforcement teams up with a high-tech spy geek and a renegade military scientist who refuses to play by the rules and always gets his man.  Or swab.

Sadly, my imagination was hijacked, because as soon as I met the characters, I pictured them as people who were in that show where Jennifer Garner was a spy for the CIA or maybe not the CIA.  The high-tech spy geek I pictured as a mash-up of the gadget guy from Alias and the guy who does the equipment corner on America’s Test Kitchen.  The renegade military scientist has DENZEL WASHINGTON SHOULD PLAY THIS CHARACTER IN THE MOVIE stamped on his forehead.

Frankly, I cannot guarantee that a movie hasn’t been done based on this book with those very actors.  The book came out in 1997 … I’ve seen approximately 15 movies since then … I could have missed it.

The author goes to great lengths to base the story on scientific fact, but as is so often the case for me when authors do that, I found myself distracted at every turn, wondering what was real.   In the forward, he outlines what is real, what is based on reality but obscured (because mad scientists in menacing nations look to germ fiction for instructions on building better bombs?), and what he just made up.

I do like that he names a biosensor device a Boink because he imagines that’s about the sound it makes when it detects whatever biohazard it is sniffing out at the time.

This emphasis on how scientifically accurate and well-researched the story is seems like a shortcut to me.  I want the suspense to come from the story, not from worrying about what part of the story I should be worried about in real life.  If I want to worry about things in real life, I just have to start counting how many televisions in public places are tuned to Fox.

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