Monday, March 19, 2012

Petroplague by Amy Rogers : Character Interview, Excerpt

Science Thriller

What if bacteria turned all the gasoline in Los Angeles into vinegar?

Carmageddon doesn’t begin to describe it.


Christina González expected her research to change the world.

But not like this.

The UCLA graduate student wanted to use biotechnology to free America from its dependence on Middle Eastern oil. Instead, an act of eco-terrorism unleashes her genetically-modified bacteria into the fuel supply of Los Angeles, turning gasoline into vinegar.

With the city paralyzed and slipping toward anarchy, Christina must find a way to rein in the microscopic monster she created. But not everyone wants to cure the petroplague—and some will do whatever it takes to spread it.

From the La Brea Tar Pits to university laboratories to the wilds of the Angeles National Forest, Christina and her cousin River struggle against enemies seen and unseen to stop the infection before it’s too late.

Set in the mountain-ringed Los Angeles basin, this terrifyingly plausible science thriller about good intentions, unexpected consequences, Peak Oil, climate change, experimental biofuels, and the astonishing power of microorganisms will give you pause every time you fill up your car.

New science thriller

Petroplague by Amy Rogers

What critics are saying about Petroplague

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At 5:40 AM, Los Angeles Mayor Felipe Ramirez stared out the window as the light of early dawn illuminated sporadic columns of smoke rising from parts of his city.  He rubbed his trademark goatee and stroked his carefully coiffed ebony hair, longing for the good old days when budget deficits, teachers’ strikes, and police misconduct were his biggest problems.  In other words, any day before this inexplicable, multifaceted transportation crisis crippled his constituency.
            “You think those are car fires or structures?” he asked his chief of staff Nelson Molton, one of the advisers gathered around him inside L.A.’s City Hall tower.
            “Hard to say, Mr. Mayor.  We’ve got reports of both all over town.”
            Ramirez wondered how many were the result of gas leaks, and how many were arson.  Setting things on fire seemed to be a natural human response to any breakdown in authority, and after a long night on the job, he knew Los Angeles was perilously close to anarchy.  Virtually every road in the city was blocked by stalled vehicles, so even though many cars were still functioning, they had nowhere to go.  Police and fire crews were paralyzed like everyone else.  Ramirez hoped to God people didn’t start looting.  He remembered how well-behaved New Yorkers were on 9/11 but didn’t expect as much from his fellow Angelenos.  This crisis had stolen their mobility, and nothing was more likely to anger a Southern Californian than taking away his freedom to hit the road.
            “What’s the latest from LACMTA?”
            “That’s the one bright spot in the picture,” Molton said.  “The Transportation Authority confirms that light rail and subway lines are still operational.  They’ve had to clear abandoned cars from some surface intersections, but the trains are moving.  The crowds weren’t too bad during the night, but they’re expecting problems with excessive passenger loads today.”
            “We need to secure those rail lines for use by emergency services,” the mayor said.
            “Absolutely.  As you know, sir, we mobilized the local National Guard during the night.  One of their first priorities is to get troops in all the Metro stations.  That’s happening as we speak.”
            Ramirez stifled a yawn and emptied his cup of coffee.  “Let’s give them another hour to get in position.  Then we’ll have to decide who gets to ride, and who doesn’t.”
            “It could get ugly, sir.”
            “What do you mean, ‘get’ ugly?  How many hundreds of people died in those plane crashes yesterday?  More died in an ambulance, or at home, because they couldn’t get to a hospital.”
            He pounded his fist on the desk.  An Army veteran and only 42 years old, Ramirez was a vigorous leader who always preferred action over hesitation.
            “What the hell is causing this?  Who’s responsible?  And how can we fix it?”
            “LACMTA gave me another clue,” Molton said.  “They checked their entire fleet of compressed natural gas buses, and the engines are working fine.  Granted, they can’t drive anywhere because the streets are impassable, but no mechanical problems at all.”
            Ramirez put his hands together.  “Compressed natural gas,” he repeated.  “More evidence that whatever is happening is linked to gasoline.  Someone put something in our gasoline.”
            “And jet fuel,” one of the advisors pointed out.
            “Product tampering on an unprecedented scale,” Molton agreed.
            “Al-Qaeda, I’ll bet,” he said.  “A dual-purpose attack.  Massive economic disruption and an assault on a potent American symbol: the car, in Los Angeles.  Homeland Security should’ve seen this coming.”
            “You can ask the President.  He’s supposed to call in about eighteen minutes.”
            “What, you think I forgot?  After I talk to him, I want a conference call with every oil company executive in town.  They have to figure out what’s in the gas and how it got there.  Then they better make a plan to purge the bad stuff and get fresh supplies from somewhere on the double.”
            The telephone on Ramirez’s desk emitted a light pinging sound.
            “The Prez checking in early?” Molton said.
            Even though the meeting was over the phone, Ramirez automatically adjusted his tie before picking up.  After half a minute of listening he said, “Hold on, I’m going to put you on speakerphone so my advisors can hear this.”  He made the proper adjustments and said to the group, “Different president.”
            A woman’s voice, powerful yet somewhat strained, came from the phone.
            “This is Dr. Elaine Hampton, Chancellor of UCLA.  I know what’s causing the city’s petroleum problem, and it’s worse than you think.”

Christina Gonzalez of Los Angeles, CA
(star of PETROPLAGUE, a thriller by Amy Rogers)
 Q:  Christina, you were at the center of the tragic events in Los Angeles during the petroplague.  In fact, some people say the whole thing was your fault.  Was it?

No, it wasn’t my fault.  Well, obviously I had something to do with it.  My genetically-altered bacteria did get into the city’s fuel supply and turn all the gasoline into vinegar.   But I didn’t put them there.  If Neil hadn’t bombed the test site, everything would’ve been fine.

Q:  The media also reported that you found the cure for the petroplague.

Most of the credit should go to my mentor, but it’s true.  My work—under difficult conditions, I might add—led me to the cure.

Q:  Did you know it was going to work?

{Pause} I shouldn’t say this, but no, I actually was afraid my cure might make the problem worse.  We were out of time, with the earthquakes and the doomers’ plot.  It was the mayor’s decision to take it to Bakersfield, but we really didn’t have a choice.

Q:  You used to volunteer for digs at the La Brea Tar Pits.  Do you still go back?

After all that happened, it’s hard for me.  Plus the place has changed so much.  But I do go back once in a while, for my work.  I’m investigating a new species of oil-eating bacteria growing there.

The place I really avoid now is the Angeles National Forest, up in the mountains.  I used to enjoy hiking there but the memories are too stressful.

Q:  How is your research at UCLA going now?

 I’m working on a totally green, renewable biofuel made by bacteria that might be in your car’s gas tank within five years.  But mostly I’m excited that I’m going to graduate and get my Ph.D. soon!

Q:  Will you and the mayor be going public about your relationship?

Felipe and I are trying to keep it quiet but you know how it is.  This is L.A.  Public figures don’t have a private life. 

Thanks so much for stopping in today and talking with us.  It's been fascinating!!

Amy Rogers is a Harvard-educated scientist who writes thrilling science-themed novels that pose frightening “what if?” questions. Compelling characters and fictionalized science—not science fiction—make her books page-turners that seamlessly blend reality with imagination.  She is a member of International Thrillers Writers (debut class 2011-2012) and a former biology professor at California State University.  Writer, educator, and critic: learn more about Dr. Rogers and read her reviews of dozens of “scientific” novels at

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