Saturday, May 30, 2015

Anthrax in the Mail, AGAIN!




I have just a few things to say about this. First of all, I swear, it's not a publicity stunt on my part, although it is eerie how well-timed this is with the imminent launch of The Death Row Complexwhich deals directly with this subject. For the record, I haven't had access to anthrax components in years, and I never had access to the live bug.

Second: I can't believe the nerve of the Army and the CDC as they look the public in the eye and try to say that there was never any danger. To be clear: this is not the fault of Fed Ex. It's the fault of the researchers who should have known better. Yes, shipments of hazardous materials, including infectious materials, happens routinely. Yes, there are regulations in place to ensure safety--or at least to maximize the probability of safety. But to accidentally ship a batch of live anthrax that was improperly irradiated? WHOOPS. Big whoops. I hope someone was fired.

Third: Yes, this is different from the Amerithrax mailings. Those were deliberate. The perpetrator of that particular crime (I'm still not convinced it was Bruce Ivins) wanted to make people die. So he put live spores in the envelope with no secondary containment. In contrast, official shipments of infectious materials from one biomedical researcher to another is done in closed containers with the appropriate secondary containment. So it should be safe.

HOWEVER: The failure to properly irradiate a sample that was supposed to have been dead is an indication of a serious lack of attention to detail on the part of someone in the lab. That person shouldn't be there. His supervisor shouldn't be there either, if he isn't more in tune with what's going on in his laboratory. This is worse than malice; it's just stupidity.

Why does this matter? One: because there could still be live infectious material on the outside of the secondary container. It could be the wrong bug altogether. It could be shipped to the wrong place. And so forth. In short, if someone in a live anthrax lab is asleep at the wheel, we can't be confident that he or she only screws up in a way that isn't a threat to the public. Two: If this kind of stupidity is allowed to slip through the cracks, then who is to say that the malice won't also? All it takes is one disgruntled researcher to "accidentally" forget to tighten the cap on the vial. And then we've got issues.

For a glimpse of what could happen, check out The Death Row Complex when it's released on June 27. And ... if you work with live anthrax, please, pay attention.

Anthrax is one of only six microorganisms classified by the CDC as Category A (High Priority) biological weapons. For more information about the bug, here's a link to their bioterrorism page, a link to their anthrax page, and a link to the specific Category A agents.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Death Row Complex, the second Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Death Row Complex in print or ebook.

An anonymous warning is sent to the White House, and a genetically engineered biological weapon is released in a California prison. The unpublished data of biologist Katrina Stone may hold the key to harnessing the lethal bacterium--and to its creation within the desperate world from which biotechnology is born.



Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Death Row Complex Cover Reveal

Another creation of Damonza's Awesome Book Covers.

An anonymous warning is sent to the White House, and a genetically engineered biological weapon is released in a California prison. The unpublished data of biologist Katrina Stone may hold the key to harnessing the lethal bacterium--and to its creation within the desperate world from which medicines are born.

Here it is! This is the cover art for The Death Row Complex, which I'm still foolishly optimistic enough to think we might be able to launch on June 6. This might be quite foolish. But it will certainly be available shortly thereafter, if not on that date.

Those of you who live in San Diego might recognize the cover image. I did, however, modify the sculpture just slightly to make it a DNA double helix.

If you've read the historical thriller The Vesuvius Isotope, you'll notice a trend between the cover art for the two novels. In both, protagonist Katrina Stone is on a quest for a medicine that can divert disaster. However, while the cover for The Vesuvius Isotope depicts the ancient world, that for The Death Row Complex depicts the modern one. Death Row is the prequel, taking place eight years before the events in Vesuvius. A sequel, which returns to the theme of a modern-day quest for an ancient medicine, is in the works.


The Death Row Complex will be available for pre-order in the very near future. Purchase The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon or get a signed copy here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Buried Books of Herculaneum Part 1

Piaggio's Device
In a glass case within the Naples Archaeological Museum is an instrument that resembles an old, battered loom. Long, knotted strands of a charcoal-colored substance hang suspended from it. The cluster looks more like meat curing in a slaughterhouse than what it actually is. It is paper.

This display is dedicated to the Villa dei Papyri, an ancient Roman residence buried and immaculately preserved in the 79AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The villa just happened to be owned by the father-in-law of Julius Caesar.

Inside the Villa dei Papyri was a large library containing approximately two thousand papyrus scrolls. Since their discovery in the 1700s, scientists and historians alike have repeatedly undertaken the unwinding of these precious artifacts. Once unwound, they are still legible.  

A papyrus scroll from the Villa dei Papyri
In addition to the large Greek library already uncovered, it is believed that there was probably an entire section of the library dedicated to works written in Latin, which of course may have included those of Julius Caesar himself. It may also contain the works of Octavian, the great nephew of Caesar and his sole heir, who went on to become the first Roman Emperor, Augustus. And the Villa dei Papyri may contain the writings of Caesar's lover and the mother of his only known son: Cleopatra, the enigmatic, powerful, multilingual, highly educated queen from whom no single writing has ever been discovered.  

But if these works do exist, they are still buried.

The majority of the villa was never fully excavated. Over the centuries, the treasure within has been sought by the likes of King Charles of Campania, Napoleon Bonaparte and Benito Mussolini. Tunnels have been excavated and then back-filled. The villa has been bombed, excavated, and bombed again. But the majority of the library remains intact, beneath meters of hardened ash from Mount Vesuvius.

I pose here the question: why? Why, when the Villa dei Papyri may be one of the most important archeological finds, and resources, in European history? Why, when many other areas of Herculaneum have been fully excavated for centuries? Why, when today's technology can readily bore into the depths of the Earth?  

You are invited to join us in solving this mystery: Why was the Villa dei Papyri never fully excavated?

Look here for clues:

The Naples Archeological Museum, Naples, Italy
The Getty Villa, Malibu, California
The Greco-Roman Museum, Alexandria, Egypt
Pompeii Awakened, by Judith Harris

We continue this story in The Buried Books of Herculaneum Part 2.

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, the first Katrina Stone novel. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope in print or ebook.

From the ancient ruins beneath Mount Vesuvius, a two-thousand-year-old document has emerged. It is the only text ever attributed to the ambitious, inquisitive, and cryptic last pharaoh of Egypt...

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that has increasingly pervaded his recent behavior. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague into the twenty-first century.




Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope and The Death Row Complex. She lives in San Diego, California.