Thursday, May 5, 2022

Revenge of the Nerd, a guest post by Chris Holm

 The winner of DEATH IN A BLACKOUT is Kathy Reel! Kathy, you can contact Jessica Ellicott with your information at Jessica at Jessica Ellicott dot com.

 

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I first heard about the book that became CHILD ZERO in the late fall of '19. I was having cocktails at some cool Portland bar with Chris Holm and his wife, critic Katrina Niidas Holm (they know where all the cool bars are.) I asked Chris the question most writers don't want to hear, "What are you working on?" 

"Have you ever heard of human microbiomes?" he replied. Then he sketched out a story that had my eyes popping out of my head. I told him I had to read it as soon as possible. When he sent me the ARC of CHILD ZERO this winter, I sat down and read the whole thing cover to cover in a single evening. Then I went back and read it again to get all the things I had missed in the first blaze-through. 

Readers, I knew Chris was good, but I didn't know he was that good. How did he write what's going to be THE thriller of 2022? By tapping into his (not so deeply buried) inner nerd.


 

 

Many thanks, Jungle Reds, for having me by! I promise I’ll use coasters and tidy up before I leave.

 

Now, a confession that’ll surprise no one who’s ever met me: I’ve been a nerd for as long as I can remember.

 

In grade school, I lived for the science fair: refracting light through various media, constructing a functional radio from household items, attaching a handmade balsa wing to a scale and sticking it inside a makeshift wind tunnel to demonstrate lift.

 

In middle school, I placed into an accelerated science track, and—with the help of an exceptional teacher by the name of Mr. LaPre—discovered an infatuation with all things biological.

 

I was also a voracious reader, tearing through mass market paperbacks by the armload. Because I grew up in the sticks, my morning bus route took nearly an hour, and I’d spend every moment of it with my nose in a book. Ditto lunch, and my ride home, and the wee hours of the morning, when I probably should’ve been asleep.


The other kids in school thought I was weird, which… fair. Still, come 1993, my nerdiness afforded me the inside track on the biggest freakin’ movie since Star Wars.

 

If I were to create a Mount Rushmore of my youth, it’d likely feature George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and Michael Crichton. Lucas and Spielberg were beloved by everyone my age. King, I shared with my cousin Joey, who was as obsessed with him as I was. But, funny as it is to say about one of the bestselling novelists of all time, Crichton felt like he was writing just for me.

 

As mainstream as Crichton was, his work was just so nerdy. THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN featured a deadly alien microbe. CONGO was about a species of violent, apelike hybrids bred to protect an ancient diamond mine. SPHERE hinged on the discovery of a mysterious spacecraft from humanity’s future, which contained a dangerous alien artifact.

 

Then, in 1990, came JURASSIC PARK—although I’m pretty sure I didn’t read it until the paperback came out the following year, because hardcovers were a luxury my family couldn’t afford.

 

It’s difficult to overstate the profound effect that JURASSIC PARK had on thirteen-year-old me. Unlike much of the science fiction I’d been exposed to at that point, Crichton’s story didn’t rely upon fanciful future technologies, it was rooted in the science of the day. He took the very topics I was learning about in school—topics I was teased for loving—and used them to bring back dinosaurs.

 

Oh, and the heroes of the novel? Scientists, all: a paleontologist, a paleobotany grad student, and a chaos theorist.

 

A couple years later, when the first trailer for Spielberg’s adaptation dropped, the entire world went dinosaur crazy. Then the movie debuted, and record-breaking audiences got a crash course in genetics, masquerading as an adventure unlike any other.

 

“The book,” I’d insist with a bibliophile’s superiority, “is so much better than the movie.” If I’m being honest, though, I adore both equally. Thanks to them, everybody liked what I liked, for a little while at least.

 

 

Is it any wonder I grew up to become a molecular biologist, or that I’d eventually try my hand at writing novels? Is it any wonder that my latest, CHILD ZERO, is a scientific thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton?

 

I’m not gonna lie to you—it’d be cool if, like JURASSIC PARK, CHILD ZERO captured the imagination of a generation. That said, I’d gladly settle for convincing one awkward little nerd that they’re a little less alone.

 

JULIA: Did you have an inner nerd, dear readers? And were you a Michael Crichton fan? (It was ANDROMEDA STRAIN that snared me.) One lucky commenter will win a copy of CHILD ZERO!

 

Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, which recasts the battle between heaven and hell as old-fashioned crime pulp; the Michael Hendricks thrillers, which feature a hitman who only kills other hitmen; thirty-odd short stories that run the gamut from crime to horror to science fiction; and the scientific thriller CHILD ZERO. He's also a former molecular biologist with a US patent to his name. Chris’ work has been selected for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES, named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.


 

It began four years ago with a worldwide uptick of bacterial infections: meningitis in Frankfurt, cholera in Johannesburg, tuberculosis in New Delhi. Although the outbreaks spread aggressively and proved impervious to our drugs of last resort, public health officials initially dismissed them as unrelated.

 

They were wrong. Antibiotic resistance soon roiled across the globe. Diseases long thought beaten came surging back. The death toll skyrocketed. Then New York City was ravaged by the most heinous act of bioterror the world had ever seen, perpetrated by a new brand of extremist bent on pushing humanity to extinction.

 

Detective Jacob Gibson, who lost his wife in the 8/17 attack, is home caring for his sick daughter when his partner, Amy, summons him to a sprawling shantytown in Central Park, the apparent site of a mass murder. Jake is startled to discover that, despite a life of abject squalor, the victims died in perfect health—and his only hope of finding answers is a twelve-year-old boy on the run from some very dangerous men.

60 comments:

  1. Oh, my goodness . . . books and science were absolutely worth being considered weird . . . I can so relate. And most definitely a Michael Crichton fan . . . .
    Congratulations on your newest book, Chris . . . I can’t wait to read “Child Zero”

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  2. Wow, Chris - that quote from Stephen King must have sent you over the moon! So many congratulations on the new book. You and I have said hello in passing but never sat down and talked - I had no idea what a cool background you have.

    I wasn't a science nerd but definitely a book nerd. But I love reading about sciencey stuff and can't wait to get my hands on Child Zero.

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    1. The only writing event I ever attended prior to becoming an author myself was a Stephen King talk when I was 13. It cost $18.50, lo those many decades ago, and I'm pretty sure I paid for it myself. Over the moon is about right.

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  3. I can’t wait to read Child Zero. While I’m waiting, will have to read the Collector series. Loved all of Michael Crichton’s works, andromeda strain was the best!

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  4. I liked comic books, science fiction and fantasy and all other kids of pop culture stuff before it became fashionable. So I didn't have an inner nerd. My nerdity was pretty much on full display. That said, I wasn't much of a Michael Crichton fan, simply because I didn't read him. In school days, I was more into fantasy than hard science fiction so I can see how I missed out on him.

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    1. Yeah, I'm pretty sure my nerdity was on full display as well. Turns out, it was a superpower, not a source of embarrassment.

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  5. I think I saw The Andromeda Strain on a date, maybe even a first date. It made no sense to me, so I bought the book some time later, and was a Crichton fan ever after.

    He had a remarkable life, and career, starting out as a medical doctor, and then writing blockbuster thrillers, and later, TV shows like ER. Plus, he was a standout physically, being 6'9", and quite handsome. He also cleared the way for authors like Robin Cook, who also wrote medical/scientific thrillers. .

    Welcome to JRW, Chris, and thanks for being such a thoughtful guest. With Julia's glowing review I am eager to read Child Zero.

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    1. Thanks, Karen! My Mom's an avid People reader. I remember Crichton wound up on their Most Beautiful list one year. I suspect that's one accolade that'll remain juuuuusst outta grasp.

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  6. Chris, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new book and on all the buzz that it is generating! Child Zero is going right onto my TBR list and my husband's list, too. I can't wait to tell him! He is a huge Michael Crichton fan and also loves mysteries. It's perfect!

    The day I moved into my very first apartment, two rooms in an early 1900's colonial about 75 miles from my hometown, I brought the book The Andomeda Strain with me. I began to read it that afternoon and was in such a terror that I couldn't go to sleep until I finished it at around 3:00 am. It haunted my dreams waking and sleeping for weeks. It made sense to me that a virus could be out of control. Now it makes sense to me that mankind could engineer one. Congratulations again!

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  7. Congratulations, Chris! CHILD ZERO is going to knock the world's socks off (in the best possible way.) This is the right time in history for this book, and you are beyond a master storyteller. Michael Crichton, step aside. There's a new nerd in town.

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  8. Ackkkk! Child Zero sounds so good! My inner nerd waxes and wanes. I still haven't read The Martian, but I loved, loved, loved Project Hail Mary. Likewise Bohjalian's The Red Lotus and St. John Mandel's The Glass Hotel (I'm about to start her new book). A really good literary scientist like Chris Holm would find a way for us to ingest books intravenously while we sleep because there's never enough time!

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    1. I hear you, Meg! As a kid, I devoured books. Now, I savor them. The problem is, that means I can fit fewer of 'em into a year.

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  9. 'There's a new nerd in town'--love that description, Brenda! Yep, nerdy girl here. Archaeology was my passion--'No, archaeologists don't study dinosaurs'--a common refrain of my nerdy youth. It was my gateway drug into science. Loved biology, genetics, medicine, and, yes, dinosaurs!

    Things that could be real as in most thrillers scare me more than horror--I suspect I'll be reading Child Zero under the covers with a flashlight, then lying awake with my eyes wide open for what's left of the night. Thanks, Chris! ;-)

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  10. CHRIS: Welcome to JRW and congratulations on CHILD ZERO!

    Me, I am a nerd, a book nerd and science nerd. It's probably how I ended up with a 25+ year career doing climate change research for Environment Canada until I retired in 2016. And I am also a big sci-fi nerd. Normally, I post my comment on JRW before 7 am. But today I watched the last episode of Star Trek: Picard, Season 2, and the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (with Capt Christopher Pike, Spock & #1) this morning first!

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    1. Our household is AWFULLY EXCITED about Strange New Worlds! Can't wait to dig in. (I'm a fan of Picard as well—heck, First Contact is my favorite Trek flick—but it's hard to recapture the magic of The Next Generation.)

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    2. CHRIS: We're definitely in a second Golden Age of Star Trek with 5 new TV series. Like you, I have been impatiently waiting for Strange New Worlds...enjoy!

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    3. Completely agree. Star Trek the Next Generation was a once in a lifetime show!

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  11. Wow and indeed wow. I just ordered Child Zero, and forgive me if I read the ending first. So yes I am a nerd with a capital N. and yet back in my teen years and continuing I was more into the 'softer sciences like linguistics. In high school, I was translating my Spanish texts into English for fun. I am still enamored by how thought is honed by words and words shape thought. -- all the perimeters of silence that happen before objects become labeled.

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    1. Fair warning, Coralee, the final chapter is a coda that features zero of the characters that came before...

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    2. I didn't think about that kind of nerdiness, Coralee. BA, MA, and PhD in linguistics here. Give me anything about language and I eat it up!

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  12. Welcome, Chris! CHILD ZERO sounds fascinating.

    I was definitely considered a nerd. Anyone who would rather spend time reading and actually enjoyed her time in the chemistry lab (although I think that was mainly down to the teacher, not any particular talent of mine) was well outside the pale, as far as my peers were concerned.

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    1. Unfortunately for them, it turns out, nerds run the world!

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  13. Congratulations on CHILD ZERO! That quote from Stephen King is amazing -- I can't even imagine how it felt to read that. Your Collector trilogy also sounds great and will be added to my TBR list.

    I was a book nerd but not so much a science nerd. I raised one, though, and there's no escaping science in my life any more. (Not a complaint, just an observation.) Still, the best science-based authors make the science accessible even to me.

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    1. Vonnegut once said something to the effect that any scientist worth a damn should be able to explain what they do to a child. That may be a tall order, but explaining it to a layperson shouldn't be.

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  14. Congratulations! I was and still am an avid reader and nerd. Nothing else gave me so much enjoyment. Science and history are fascinating subjects.

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  15. Hank Phillippi RyanMay 5, 2022 at 9:13 AM

    I am so excited about this! It sounds absolutely fantastic. Yes, absolutely, Michael Crichton did it for me too, whole new worlds opened up. As a little little kid, there was a series by Edward Eager about four kids on adventures, and one of them, called Half Magic, was a complete math book. They learned that to get their wish, you had to wish for twice as much as you wanted. And had to figure out exactly how to word it. For instance, if they said “I wish my cat could talk!”, the cat could only whisper. It was brilliant! I also always thought they taught physics wrong in high school – why not take us to an amusement park, and let us ride the roller coaster and the merry-go-round and the tilt a whirl? Then we’d understand. I was as nerdy as they came in junior high and high school, and proud of it.
    And do you know the book Godel, Escher, Bach? I think about that, after all these many many years, all the time.
    Anyway! Your book sounds terrifying and great. And love love love to you both.

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    1. Hank, Half Magic was my favorite book when I was a child. It totally captured my imagination and I never considered that it was math. Very interesting. I think that the first time I read it, I went around looking for coins or rocks that just might give me that magical power.

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    2. Hank Phillippi RyanMay 5, 2022 at 10:03 AM

      Oh, that is hilarious! I knew we had a lot in common. Yes, I’m sure those coins are out there, no question.

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    3. Thanks, Hank! I really hope you like it. I'm pretty sure we've got a copy of GODEL, ESCHER, BACH around here somewhere...

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  16. Fascinating and amazing. When I was growing up we had the novel, The Andromeda Strain on our bookshelves. My father was a science fiction reader and into history. This started my interest in those subjects. Congratulations on your new book!

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  17. Welcome to Jungle Reds! Today is THRILLER THURSDAY and it's fitting that today's post would be an interview with an author of thrillers!
    Though I am a Book nerd, I doubt that I was a science nerd though I read some of my dad's science fiction novels (Asimov and Bradbury) Your novel, CHILD ZERO, sounds like a page turner.
    Diana

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    1. My goal was to ensure you don't have to be a science nerd to read CHILD ZERO, because this science nerd has done the heavy lifting for you. Whether or not I was successful is up to you.

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    2. Chris, thank you for doing the heavy lifting for us okay at science.

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  18. I loved science experiments and tried many at home, much to my mom’s dismay. One was to have a hard boiled egg sucked down into a milk bottle by lighting a small fire in the bottle. By the time I had finally gotten it to work, the whole bathroom smelled like burnt, rotten eggs, but it worked! I had an an amazing chemistry teacher in high school (who once was a studio magician with ZZ Top), who for Christmas, played his guitar and did fun experiments. The best was when he turned down the lights and burned a strip of magnesium (after the volcano, of course).

    Congratulations on your book launch and thanks for stopping by JRW ~

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  19. Child Zero sounds amazing. I, too, was the kid glued to a book. I always had one with me for when I got done with my work in class before it was over, for study halls, the bus ride that was a minimum of an hour each way (unfortunately it was so early it was hard to read in the mornings because it was still so dark). I don't remember whether I read the book or saw the movie of Jurassic Park first, but I enjoyed both and read several more of his books over the years.

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  20. I love thrillers, and I love mysteries, and I love SF, so CHILD ZERO was totally in my sweet spot. More importantly, I feel it's been a long time since we've seen any near-future, hard-science based thrillers or mysteries. There's a reason everyone is going to Michael Crichton as a comparison - who else since him has written in this vein? And of course, his biggest hits were behind him by the end of the 20th century. So I hope CHILD ZERO is wildly successful on its own merits, and I also hope it kickstarts a revival of the science thriller.

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    1. Right?! It's weird to me that these sorts of books just vanished, given how popular they used to be.

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  21. Congrats on the new book. This sounds great.

    I'm more a pop culture nerd than a science nerd. As a result, never really got into Michael Crichton's books.

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  22. I can’t wait to read this book. Huge Crichton fan and Julia has been raving about Child Zero for months. Congrats, Chris!!!

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  23. I am a huge nerd! I love all of the sciences - well, I had to skip dissection day in biology, but other than that I love all sciences. I never read a Chrichton book but my older brother did and he told me all about his books. I was more into doing experiments and being outside than reading fiction when I was a kid. This book has me intrigued!

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    1. One reason I got into molecular biology? No dissections!

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  24. Hi Chris! Julia has been raving about this book for ages, so I can't wait to read it! I'm a nerd, too--read sci-fi, collected rocks and minerals, devoured animal behavior and science books, majored in biology, so Child Zero is right up my alley. Congratulations!!

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  25. Color me completely hooked! Global health nerd here. You had me at antibiotic resistance and multi-site discontinuous outbreaks. Congratulations!

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  26. Fiction too close to real to be comfortable can sometimes teach life-saving lessons. The teachers' required public health class used a book of short medical mysteries based on real life cases, and made us much more aware of potential health and safety concerns. I'll be getting CHILD ZERO!

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  27. Yep. Nerd here also. I loved the book The Andromeda Strain. I kept trying to figure out the clues even as our hero scientists were. What did the crying baby and the bum who drank Sterno have in common that kept them alive? Loved it. Look forward to reading your book, Chris!

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