Jun. 12th, 2017

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It's summer! I have free time again! So let's catch up with my bookshelves, shall we?

This morning I finished reading The Girl With All The Gifts. I would describe this as the In-n-Out Burger of popular literature: it's general shape and flavor are familiar, but of unusually high quality, and therefore surprisingly satisfying. It's not doing anything new, it's just doing what it does well. And since it's a suspense-zombie-adventure novel, I found it really hard to put down. "A page-turner!"

Before that I read The Sellout by Paul Beatty, which gets points for being the cheekiest thing I'm going to read this year, I can already tell. I don't think I am qualified to say much more about it other than how much I liked its sense of place -- it's an L.A. book, but about parts of L.A. you hardly ever see (in fiction or otherwise).

Sometime before that I read Follow Me Into the Dark by Felicia Sullivan, a book about serial killers and generational trauma, written from a feminist perspective. Like many books about serial killers and/or generational trauma, it got a little lurid for my tastes somewhere in the middle -- not gross, just over-the-top-ish. It fixed itself later. It still does some gaudy tricksy things that feel a little unnecessary, but overall it was solid, and recommended to people who like unreliable narrators (hoo boy) and unstable narrative realities and the like.

Meanwhile, I read The Princess Bride aloud to my children. They had mixed feelings, but mostly overall positive. As for me, it was on this re-read that I noticed that the whole "good bits" abridgment schtick is partly a commentary on Les Miserables, where the plot is the thinnest stuff necessary to get you through big blocks of other material, and that those big blocks aren't "digressions," they're the meat of the book, to Hugo anyway. The "plot" is just connective tissue.
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OK, I also have to admit to one tiny personal disappointment with The Girl With All The Gifts. It is possible that what I am about to discuss could be considered a spoiler, so proceed at your own discretion. Also there are mildly gory true-life biological experiment details involving animal subjects below.

Back in high school, I worked on a toxicology study for a summer. We were working to answer a certain question about delayed neurotoxins (i.e. organophosphates). Typically, after being exposed to delayed neurotoxins, vertebrates such as chickens, cats, ferrets, mink, and humans experience progressive neurological impairment over the course of days or weeks, especially of their back or lower limbs.

In chickens at least, however, immature chicks seem to be immune to the effects of this class of delayed neurotoxins. At the time, nobody knew why. Was it because their digestive systems were too undeveloped to absorb the toxins? That was one hypothesis.

So we bypassed the digestive system entirely by injecting organophosphates into days-old chicks intravenously, intramuscularly and intraperitoneally. Plus the control group, of course.

Then we pureed their brains (not all of them, only 50%, just like Dr. Caldwell) and tested them for the presence of neurotoxic esterase (NTE), an enzyme which would indicate that the compound had been absorbed and metabolized.

NTE was present in all the dosed chicks. The chemical was absorbed just fine. So we watched the other half of the chick population for limb impairment over the course of a month or so.

No impairment.

The compound was swimming around in the chick's bodies; it just wasn't having any effect on their nervous system.

JUST LIKE THE KIDS IN THE BOOK, Y'ALL.

Except not, because instead there's this thing about first-generation zombies having sex with each other and then gestating babies that I frankly find strained my suspension of disbelief so hard it still has stretch marks. Oh well.

P.S.: Effect of route of administration on the development of organophosphate-induced delayed neurotoxicity in 4-week-old chicks.
Olson BA1, Bursian SJ.
Department of Animal Science, Michigan State University, East Lansing 48824.
J Toxicol Environ Health. 1988;23(4):499-505.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3361617

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