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Big If: A Novel by Mark Costello

By Mark Costello

It's wintry weather in New Hampshire, the economic climate is booming, the vice chairman is operating for president, and his mystery carrier everyone is very, very tense.

Meet Vi Asplund, a tender mystery provider agent mourning her lifeless father. She is going domestic to New Hampshire to determine her brother Jens, a working laptop or computer genius who simply could be going mad—and is poised to make a fortune on immense If, a viciously nihilistic laptop online game aimed toward young children. Vi's the United States, as she sees it within the crowds, in her brother, and in her fellow brokers, is prosperous, worried, and abuzz with obscure fantasies of violence.

Through a gallery of vibrant characters—heroic, ignoble, or desperate—Mark Costello's hilarious novel limns the techniques, either sound and absurd, that we conjure to outlive in way of life.

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In either case, the required learning would consist of both explicit knowledge—that which can be written down in textbooks or manuals—and, equally importantly, tacit knowledge derived from experience or practical instruction (Jackson 2001). In most cases, several distinct scientific and technical skills would be necessary. For example, even though Aum Shinrikyo¯ recruited at least one scientist with a background in microbiology or molecular biology to work on its weapons, the project would probably have been more successful if Aum had also deployed a pathologist, an engineer, a meteorologist, and an aerosol physicist.

Continued production over many months could then yield large quantities of agent, although this would put additional, nontrivial demands on process safety and agent storability. Several modern terrorist groupings have plausibly demonstrated that they can meet these criteria. For example, various organizations have successfully maintained covert facilities, including al-Qa¯‘ida, which reportedly maintained several smallscale biological and chemical weapons–related production facilities in Afghanistan under the Taliba¯n, and Aum, which built and operated a clandestine, state-of-theart laboratory near Mount Fuji.

This simplifies dissemination and allows the use of improvised spray equipment (Falkenrath 1998a). Many chemical weapons agents also vaporize spontaneously at room temperature. These considerations make chemical agents among the easiest substances to weaponize and may well put them within the technical capabilities of many terrorist groups. Similar considerations apply to the contamination of food or water systems, although dilution effects can be a significant obstacle. 2 Biological Weapons Materials and Technology Acquisition The material requirements for a biological weapon include equipment such as a fermenter and, perhaps, a freeze-dryer (‘‘lyophilizer’’), a seed stock of the desired pathogen, and growth media.

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