By Grant Jacobs 07/11/2017

A quick introduction to Cat Zero and lablit. Some of us like the science in our fiction to be real. Don’t get me wrong. I can take a premise to buy into a story, even real doozies (well, up to a point…!)[1] But once I’ve done the deal with the author to buy into their plot, I prefer the science to be real.

There’s a genre of fiction dedicated to real science in fiction – lablit. It’s another slice of science communication too, showing readers scientists (and their work) as they are, not the classic lab coat stereotype, or evil geniuses eager to claim world domination.

A new addition to their collection is Cat Zero, by Jennifer Rohn. It’s her third novel, along with Experimental Heart and The Honest Look.

I haven’t read the book, or a preview of it as unfortunately for me her writing is not available on Kobo.[1] But the blurb is intriguing,

Artie Marshall is a scientist. She is perpetually underfunded, relegated to a damp basement, and besieged on all sides by sexist colleagues. Added to that she is immersed in a messy divorce. But she’s never been happier: she recently landed her own lab, based in an eclectic think-tank housed in the leafy suburbs of North London.

Artie spends her days studying an obscure cat virus that nobody else in the world seems to have heard of – or cares about. But her arcane little research problem suddenly becomes worryingly relevant as local cats start dropping dead overnight. Matters get worse when people start getting infected too.

Working with her right-hand man Mark, her vet friends and her street-smart technician, Artie races to get to the bottom of the ballooning epidemic. Unexpected assistance arrives in the form of two basement-dwelling mathematicians – a sociopathic recluse and his scary, otherworldly savant mentor. When their mathematical models suggest that the cat plague might actually be more sinister than it first appears, Artie gets drawn into a web of secrets and lies that threatens to blow apart her lab family, undermine her sanity – and endanger her own life.

Jennifer Rohn explored feline leukemia virus as a PhD student, so she knows her stuff. (She explains more about this on her blog post about her new book.)

Fiction with science the author really knows about. What’s not to like?

Reviews at GoodReads suggest while she has leaned more towards thriller than in her previous books, Rohn has kept her slower-paced descriptive work too. I’m a fan of what I call ‘literate thrillers’, thrillers that keep a solid wodge of substance that distinguishes them from the emptier style all-action of the B-grade thriller.

Either way Cat Zero might be something some of my readers might like to try out.

You might also want to explore the lablit website. There’s a list of books in the genre and news articles.[2] (Note lablit is not science fiction!)

Most of these authors might not feature on the display of the top 100 ‘best reads’ in your local bookstore, but there’s excellent reading to be had away from the highly marketed few at the top of book publishing pyramid.

A few years ago I decided to limit the cost of (most!) books I buy to around $NZ10, partly to cope with a tight budget. It’s a practice I’ve stuck with still, partly as my budget has never gotten any better!

One upshot was that most of my books are now out of the Dunedin library and Regent theatre sales. Another win is that I’ve explored authors away from those touted by the marketing of the big publishers. This has been especially true while I’ve been travelling, as in some ways it’s easier to find these using the eBook outlets. There are perfectly good books there, and you’ll be supporting authors who make less money but still try offer readers something they can see and want to share.

Other articles on Code for life

Book sales, frumpy readers, and mental rotation of book titles

Explore ancient science books on-line

Ancient books (or I’d rather be reading)

Writing a popular science book; links and writers’ warnings

Books, boxes and cats – are eBooks reducing community access to university library material?


1. I need to check if there is some way to import books bought on Kindle or wherever into Kobo. You can bring in PDFs and eBooks you own personally, so perhaps this is possible… I hope.

2. Personally I prefer they linked to GoodReads, not Amazon. Besides being neutral, GoodReads links to all the major resellers.

Featured image

Cover illustration for Cat Zero, original on J. Rohn’s blog post.

0 Responses to “Cat zero and reading for those who like science in fiction to be real”

  • To convert ebooks get Calibre –
    Calibre is open source software that supports most e-readers, collates and manages ebooks including converting between formats

    [Ed: Lest anyone is wondering, this Grant is not the author of the article, but another Grant!]

    • Thanks, I’ve seen that suggested elsewhere too – seems a popular choice. Downloaded. Next I should find a suitably cheap (free??) eBook at Amazon to test this out…

      In other news I’m told a review copy of the Cat Zero will be heading to my mailbox. Yay! Looking forward to reading it. Expect a review on Sciblogs, but not too quickly. I’m not that fast a reader!