Tuesday's Book: The Cobra Event by Richard Preston (Orion, pounds 9.99)
Tuesday 12 May 1998
As you might expect, The Cobra Event is not great literature, and it suffers from the flaws inherent in its factual origins. Too often, the action is slowed, or brought to a halt, by a didactic passage in which we learn more than we need to know about genetic engineering, or the structure of DNA. Preston has not yet learned that although factual knowledge is a help when laying out the story, the reader doesn't need to know even half of the detail. His idea of adding background colour is to describe the interior of a delicatessen where his protagonists eat lunch in the kind of detail usually reserved for travel guides (or maybe a Bill Bryson book). And there are no characters for whom the reader gives two hoots.
But the reader does, of course, care about the fate of humanity. The plot, such as it is, revolves around the race against time to catch the person responsible for releasing the plague, and to stop the spread of the disease. And the disease itself is a real humdinger, much worse than any flesh-eating bacteria.
This is where Preston really scores; the depth of his immersion in the background pays off. The physical effects of the virus are described in almost loving detail, and they are just close enough to the known effects of a real virus to make the idea of adapting it to attack humans more than merely plausible. You have a horrible feeling that maybe this part of the narrative is not fiction at all, but something Preston learned about from his work on The Hot Zone.
There is just enough pace to carry the excitement over the explanatory sections (which can be skipped) and send you hurtling on to find out not so much "who dunnit" but how they stop him. The effect is a bit like early Stephen King (the rats even make an appearance) or late Michael Crichton, but all the science is much truer to what is going on in labs than the science in Jurassic Park. Scientific non-fiction may have lost one of its stars, as the inevitable movie is already in the pipeline.
Life & Style blogs
Nokia no more: Microsoft drops once-ubiquitous mobile name – in favour of its Lumia brand
Fake goats’ cheese found in supermarkets
Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
Uber France apologises for sexist promotion offering men free rides with 'incredibly hot chicks' as drivers
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
- 1 Marijuana use by teenagers does not result in a lower IQ or worse exam results, study finds
- 2 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 3 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 4 Australian café owner sparks debate after saying 'No' to having unruly children on premises
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...
£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...
£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...
£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...