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Spiral by Paul McEuen


A review by Nalini Haynes

Double-helix DNA looks like a spiral, hence the name of this novel.

During World War II Liam Connor is a young soldier who specialised in fungus for his science degree. Liam is roped in to assist the US after the end of WWII after the Japanese released a disease kamikaze style on US troops. Liam recovers a container holding a biological weapon of mass destruction, a deadly fungus called Uzumaki, a fact known only to himself and Hitoshi Kitano, the Japanese kamikaze warrior.

Sixty-four years later Liam is a world-wide reknown expert in fungus and a great-grandfather, balancing his family life with his work. Liam’s grand-daughter, Maggie Connor, is also a fungus expert and her son, Dylan, is a gifted 9 year old who will probably follow in their footsteps. Jake Sterling is ex-army and a professor who collaborates with Liam.

Liam has not told anyone that he recovered the Uzumaki fungus, he has only hinted at the past to Jake. When Liam jumps to his death in an apparent but completely unexpected suicide, Maggie and Jake start searching for answers.

The characters are well-developed for such a short book (310 pages), alongside a gripping plot. The science seemed to hold together for me, so much so I looked up the author to discover he is an expert in nanotechnology, chemistry and biology. My best guess is I learnt some real science along the way here, which is one of the marks of good SF in my opinion.

Spiral is SF with good character work. McEuen has been billed as a worthy successor to Michael Crichton; my response is that Spiral is shorter than Crichton’s books, but the quality and style of SF writing is definitely present in every page. Fans of serious SF and thrillers will enjoy Spiral. Although shorter than Alaistair Reynolds, Iain M. Banks and Paolo Bacigalupi’s books, I believe fans of those authors will also enjoy Spiral.


This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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