Review: Blockbuster by Lisa von Biela

blockbusterAbout Blockbuster

In the year 2025, survival of the fittest takes on new importance. Hungry for market share and driven by greed, BigPharma companies battle to produce the next blockbuster drug. And they will go to any length to win—and survive.

Dan Tremaine has found the secret to success for Denali Labs. Phil Horton is desperate to save his family firm, Horton Drugs. When they're put in a head-to-head competition to find the cure for a deadly flesh-eating disease, who will win?

And at what cost?

The clock is ticking. The body count is rising.

And someone has created a monster.

About the Author

Lisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, and still claims there is no application she cannot break in testing. She left the field to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington. One of her legal articles, a research piece published in the Food and Drug Law Journal, was cited in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just after the turn of the century, Lisa began to write short, dark fiction. Her first publication was in The Edge in 2002. She went on to publish a number of short works in various small press venues, including, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more.


My Thoughts

Lisa von Biela's Blockbuster is a solid medical thriller that reads well, but lacks much in the way of character depth.

So, let me tackle the bad and get this gruesome bit of business out of the way first. Despite having a number of principal cast members, none of them feel very well defined or memorable. Outside of Dan Tremaine, owner of Denali Labs, I'm having a bit of a hard time remembering any of the other characters. There's the female scientist, Sylvia, and her lawyer husband, as well as the scientist's older co-worker who has a crush on her - and I remember that particular detail because as soon as he's introduced von Biela spends a number of paragraphs telling us how much he's crushing on her. There's also the US President who is obsessed with the word "Homeland" and uses it unsparingly.

Dialogue is a bit flat, wooden, and rings a bit out of tune a bit too often to my ears. There's also a few instances where dialogue serves primarily as infodump, because von Biela wants to convey certain information about the world her story inhabits, but can only relay it through long-winded conversations where people talk in ways that very few real-life humans speak.

Those are by big gripes with this book. Now, the good.

In spite of her stilted characters, Blockbuster tells a really damn good story. In fact, I found the story itself to be so gripping that the problems I had with the character's realizations were not the deal breaker they otherwise might have been.

This germ-driven story of conspiracy and manipulation is great fodder to build a plot from. There's all kinds of techno-whiz-bang stuff of the near-future coloring her world, including a nifty high-tech smart watch that puts the disappointing and strangely mundane iWatch to shame. But the crux is the story revolves around an all-too plausible horror of BigPharma playing a game of chicken with modified diseases and a high susceptible public in an effort to cause epidemics and drive up profits. It's truly insidious stuff, and Tremaine, with his pseudo-cocaine habit, could easily be The Wolf Of Pharmaceuticals.

The disease in question is MRSA-II, which makes its flesh-eating predecessor look like the flu. I can typically handle traditional, vile horror romps. But, I've got a thing for needles, and von Biela's judicious and vivid descriptions of the toll MRSA-II takes on the human body, and the early efforts at treatment, had me squirming.

Most importantly, Blockbuster is just, plain and simple, a compelling story. Some might even go so far as to call it an...infectious read? Puns aside, for me these good bits outweighed the bad, and I was drawn in by the dueling businesses/grudge match of Denali Labs and Horton Drugs and how the response to the changing pharmaceutical marketplace trumps ethical practices. There's a writ-large morality play underpinning Blockbuster, and most of the characters in this book either lack ethics or have huge blind spots that allow them to trudge their way through enormous ethical lapses, bad decisions, and terrorism, all in the name of winning, while the wee little people pay the ultimate price for the rank hubris of these corporation's bottom lines. Regardless of its narrowly defined characters and some schlocky dialogue, there's a really good tale of smart bio-horror here. The execution may fall a little flat, but plot-wise it's on the money.

Buy Blockbuster At Amazon

Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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