Nano will be a hit

Pia Graz­dani a beau­ti­ful, gutsy pro­tag­o­nist

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - WAKA TSUN­ODA

By Robin Cook

Put­nam 448 pp; $28.50

Ever since his de­but as a med­i­cal thriller writer more than 30 years ago, Robin Cook, M.D., has used ev­ery­thing from or­gan trans­plants to alien viruses as the sub­ject of his nov­els. In his lat­est, Nano, he tack­les nan­otech­nol­ogy.

It is an ex­cel­lent choice, be­cause pub­lic in­ter­est is high in this young sci­ence. Nan­otech­nol­ogy al­lows sci­en­tists to ma­nip­u­late ma­te­ri­als at the molec­u­lar level.

As the pro­tag­o­nist, the au­thor brings back Pia Graz­dani, who un­cov­ered a mur­der dis­guised as a lab­o­ra­tory ac­ci­dent in Cook’s last novel, Death Ben­e­fit. She was a med­i­cal stu­dent then. Now, she is a re­searcher at Nano LLC, a nan­otech­nol­ogy re­search com­pany in Boul­der, Colo.

De­spite un­wel­come at­ten­tion from the com­pany’s founder-CEO, who is ob­sessed with her Ital­ian-Al­ba­nian beauty, Pia is happy enough in her new life. Then, a trou­bling in­ci­dent oc­curs, and things change.

While out jog­ging, she finds a Chi­nese man ly­ing on the road, seem­ingly in car­diac ar­rest. She rushes him to a lo­cal hospi­tal, but be­fore he can be treated, Pia’s com­pany su­per­vi­sor ar­rives with armed guards and two of­fi­cial-look­ing Chi­nese men and forcibly takes cus­tody of the pa­tient. Pia is or­dered to for­get about the en­tire episode.

The or­der has just the op­po­site ef­fect. She vows to find out what all th­ese Chi­nese characters have to do with Nano, and what is go­ing on in the com­pany’s high-se­cu­rity com­plex sur­rounded by barbed-wire fences.

In Death Ben­e­fit, Pia came across as a rather unattrac­tive char­ac­ter, in­sen­si­tive to other peo­ple’s feel­ings. In Nano, she has blos­somed into a per­fect pro­tag­o­nist for a thriller — gutsy, tena­cious, ex­pert in the mar­tial arts and will­ing to take risks to get to the bot­tom of a mys­tery.

Nano is one of Cook’s best.

The story of 2012 in pub­lish­ing was the story of Fifty Shades of Grey, in more ways than one.

E L James’ erotic tril­ogy was eas­ily the year’s big­gest hit, sell­ing more than 35 mil­lion copies in the U.S. alone and top­ping best­seller lists for months. Ri­val pub­lish­ers hur­ried to sign up sim­i­lar books and de­bates started over who should star in the planned film ver­sion. Through James’ books and how she wrote them, the gen­eral pub­lic was ed­u­cated in the worlds of ro­mance/ erot­ica, startup pub­lish­ing and “fan fic­tion.”

But the success of James’ nov­els also cap­tured the dual state of the book mar­ket — the ad­vance of ebooks and the re­silience of pa­per. In a year when print was la­belled as en­dan­gered and es­tab­lished pub­lish­ers re­ferred to as “legacy” com­pa­nies, de­fined and be­holden to the past, the al­lure re­mained for buy­ing and read­ing bound books.

James al­ready was an un­der­ground hit be­fore sign­ing in early 2012 with Vin­tage Books, a pa­per­back im­print of Random House Inc., the house of Norman Mailer and Toni Mor­ri­son, a house where legacy is in­sep­a­ra­ble from the brand. She could have self-pub­lished her work through Ama­zon.com, or re­leased her books from her own web­site, and re- ceived a far higher per­cent­age of roy­al­ties.

“We had a very clear con­ver­sa­tion back in Jan­uary about the need for a very spe­cific pub­lish­ing strat­egy,” says Vin­tage pub­lisher Anne Mes­sitte. “We talked about distri­bu­tion, a phys­i­cal for­mat, pub­lic­ity. And she was ba­si­cally clear that she needed what we did as pub­lish­ers to make that hap­pen.”

Fifty Shades be­gan as an e-phe­nom­e­non, un­der­stand­able since dig­i­tal erot­ica means you can read it in pub­lic with­out fear of dis­cov­ery. But ac­cord­ing to Mes­sitte, sales for the pa­per­backs quickly caught up to those for e-books and have sur­passed them com­fort­ably for the last sev­eral months. Ev­ery­one was in on the se­cret. The se­ries sold big at Ama­zon.com, but also at Barnes & No­ble and in­de­pen­dents, at drug­stores and air­ports.

Pub­lish­ers from sev­eral ma­jor houses agreed that e-books com­prise 25-30 per cent of over­all sales, ex­po­nen­tially higher than a few years ago, but not nearly enough to erase the power of pa­per. And the rate of growth is lev­el­ling off, in­evitable as a new for­mat ma­tures. Simon & Schus­ter CEO Carolyn Reidy said esales were up around 30 per cent this year, less than half what she had ex­pected.

“We saw all th­ese huge sales for tablets and huge sales for other machines coming out and as­sumed there would be a lot of new e-book read­ers,” Reidy says. “But in ret­ro­spect there were a lot of cur­rent e-book read­ers who were up­grad­ing their machines. And tablet own­ers do not use e-books as much as those with ded­i­cated e-book read­ers” such as Ama­zon’s Kin­dle.

“There are some peo­ple who think that print will go away, but Fifty Shades is an in­di­ca­tion of why that’s not go­ing to hap­pen,” says Mes­sitte, who added that the books at­tracted many non-read­ers who don’t own e-de­vices. “You’re go­ing to need a mix of ways to read.”

The rise of e-books has shaken, but not bro­ken the way books are pub­lished and sold. Mem­ber­ship in the in­de­pen­dent stores’ trade group, the Amer­i­can Book­sell­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, has in­creased three years in a row af­ter decades of de­cline. Ama­zon is a draw for many self-pub­lished au­thors, but its ef­forts at ac­quir­ing and edit­ing books — “legacy” pub­lish­ing — have been mixed.

An in-house im­print, headed by former Time Warner Book Group chief Lau­rence J. Kir­sh­baum, has so far landed few works of note be­yond a mem­oir by Penny Mar­shall and an ad­vice book on cook­ing by life­style guru Ti­mothy Fer­riss. Ri­val sellers have re­fused to stock Ama­zon’s books, lim­it­ing their sales po­ten­tial. And if pub­lish­ers suf­fer from their rep­u­ta­tion — of­ten earned — of be­ing slow to adapt to tech­nol­ogy, they ben­e­fit from a rep­u­ta­tion — of­ten earned — for be­ing nice to their writ­ers.

“There cer­tainly is the com­fort fac­tor, and part of that com­fort fac­tor is the cul­ture of old pub­lish­ing, which is very col­le­gial and warm and friendly,” says

Nano

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