Friday, July 08, 2011

Plague War - Jeff Carlson


Plague War
Jeff Carlson
Ace

SciFi/Post-Apocalyptic Thriller
 
This is a sequel to PLAGUE YEAR.  I didn’t read the first novel, so I have no idea if this review contains spoilers.  I would guess that it must.  For those who didn’t read the first book, there’s a really excellent recap in the first chapter here that seems to hit all the high points.
 
The first book dealt with a nanotech device escaping from a lab.  The nanotech was designed to enter the host’s body and eradicate cancer cells.  What escaped was nanotech that simply liquefies any living host over the course of a few hours.  The only way to escape the machine plague was to get to someplace above 10,000 feet in altitude, where the tech is rendered useless.  This novel opens fourteen months after the events of the first, with humans all over the world perched on very limited mountain space. 
 
Isolation, fear, and uncertain living conditions have changed most people.  In the U.S., there’s a civil war brewing, with at least two governments in power in their respective areas, both claiming to be the legitimate government.  The Rockies and Sierras contain what’s left of the population, in groups of varying size.  Many countries in Europe are fighting for space in the Alps; China, and India are trying to negotiate for space in the Himalayas, with Russia trying to negotiate for any sliver of space it can get.  The current capital of the U.S. is located in Leadville, CO, where the government knows about a vaccine for the plague, but wants to control the spread.  Controlling the vaccine means absolute control of the population.

Ruth Goldman is a scientist who worked on the tech.  She has a workable vaccine.  She, Cam Najarro, and Mark Newcombe are engaged in a desperate journey to Leadville.  Along the way, as soon as they can get into the mountains, they plan to spread the vaccine to everyone they can find.  Ruth is an obvious target for any number of governments or groups with a wide range of agendas.
 
The majority of the novel is spent as a road trip on foot.  Ruth, Cam, and Newcombe have to fight for their survival on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  The virtual eradication of mammals means the explosion of insect populations without the attendant increase in food sources.  Walking into a swarm of ants, even in protective gear, is pretty much my worst nightmare.  This happens in the first chapter and while it horrified me, it crystallized the situation of survivors in a way not much else could.  The insect attacks are shining examples of the writer’s dictate to ‘show, not tell.’  In too much of the rest of the novel, major events take place ‘off-screen,’ and are only presented in after-the-fact discussions by other characters.  It’s a bit disappointing.
 
As the title makes clear, war is imminent.  This time, it’s the human kind of war.  Because, clearly, even in times of near-total extinction, the need to wipe out the enemy and take his stuff is paramount in many people.  It’s terribly sad, but probably pretty accurate.  War is just looting with bigger guns on a much larger scale.  Ruth and Cam are clearly meant to be heroes here.  I find them to be complex characters dealing with impossible situations, but still not very likeable.  Maybe that’s accurate, too.  Ruth is personally responsible, in large part, for a huge number of deaths.  Guilt like that would have an effect on anyone.  Most of her decisions, both personal and public, seem mean-spirited and selfish.  Even in the final scenes, I don’t see her as a great hero.  There’s a third book in the series.  Maybe she’ll be able to change my mind.
 
Rating: 7
August 2008
ISBN# 978-0-441-01617-4

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