Monday, July 11, 2011

Plague Zone - Jeff Carlson

Plague Zone
Jeff Carlson

SciFi/Post-Apocalyptic Thriller

This is the third in a series including PLAGUE YEAR and PLAGUE WAR.  This story takes place fifteen months after the events of the previous book, so there will be spoilers if you haven’t read the series to this point.

Most people consider the year of the nanotech machine plague to be Year One.  The machine plague wiped out most warm-blooded life under ten thousand feet elevation.  At that point, what remained of humanity waged wars over securing the highest points on the planet.  Even after scientist Ruth Goldman came up with a vaccine to allow people to return to the lowlands, war continued.  At the outset of this book, the survivors have weathered the machine plague and man-made weapons.
The novel begins with a bug infestation in a village greenhouse.  The natural world is in turmoil, having lost so many species, and insects continue to breed and ravage almost unchecked.  People grow crops in protected greenhouses, so an ant invasion is very bad news.  Even worse is the stranger who wanders into the village, looking confused.  This stranger is carrying a new nano-plague that affects higher brain functions.  Unfortunately, the people in the village discover this only after several of their own are infected.
Ruth Goldman, a scientist partly responsible for the original plague, realizes almost immediately that only the Chinese currently have the capabilities of designing and manufacturing this tech.  It makes sense.  The Chinese have occupied a good portion of the western United States since the last war.  This is obviously their latest attempt to wipe out the remaining population.  Or worse, to enslave it.  Ruth believes that she can find a cure for this plague, too.  To do so, she’ll need a sample and a place to do research.  Not so easy when you’re on the run for your life.
I wasn’t convinced that Ruth was any kind of hero at the end of the last novel.  This one has not changed my mind at all.  She overwhelming hubris is only held in check by the weird and twisted relationship she has with Cam Najarro, another survivor.  I’m sure relationships during the end of the world are problematic, but there’s a lot of twisted stuff going on here that I’m not sure is intentional.  The selfless heroics of even minor characters seem all the more heartbreaking when viewed against the two main characters. 

The book starts out with the village inhabitants fighting for their crops against insects.  The arrival of the stranger is surprising, and the results of that are unexpected.  From there, the book takes off on what is almost an extended chase scene, across the western U.S.  This time, we also get to see some of what’s going on over on the Chinese side.  The author takes care to make the enemies just as human as the defenders.  The only mindless soldiers here are the nanotech that may end us all.  The writing seems more fluid and the pacing is faster in this installment, making for quite a page-turner. 

Rating: 8
December 2009
ISBN# 978-0-441-01799-7 (paperback)


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