Monday, April 6, 2015

That moment when you can tell the writer went, "Oh, crap"

Actually, the writer probably used stronger language, but as I strive to keep things clean here, unless I'm quoting from a book, we'll just imagine what he or she might have said.


And I get it.  Kind of.  Well, on a smaller scale.  When you blog for fun, like I do (this blog isn't for work or part of my plan for world domination or anything like that), you hit writing walls.  It's like, "Dang.  Nothing is ... moving me right now."  But there's an urge to write something.  So you end up writing the dreaded wahhh-I-can't-blog blogpost.  I can only imagine that when you are an author writing a book that you intend to sell to make money so that you can live (yes, writers do need food, water, shelter, and clothing.  They do not exist on the well-wishes of their fans), stuff gets a little hairier.  Maybe you've written yourself into a corner.  Maybe you just are plumb out of steam.  What do you do?

Warning: Massive spoilers ahead.


Well, let me tell you what, as a reader, I'd really, really, really rather you not do:

Soviet sleeper agents.

But let's back up.

Because I am part of Skynet the global Amazon machine as a Prime member, I get to pick a free ebook every month.  Yay!  Most often, I end up disliking them.  Boo!  BUT, I'll either find something I actually enjoy, OR something that's so off-the-wall that I can't help but read it just to find out what happens next.  At first I thought that my March pick, The Gemini Effect by Chuck Grossart, was going to be a relatively mindless yet fun sci-fi/conspiracy romp.  I like those kinds of books.

For a while, things tootle along rather nicely.  We have an unknown chemical agent that causes rapid and deadly mutation in living creatures.  Unfortunately for humans, the first infected creature is a rat. Rats are everywhere.  This contagion/poison/mysterious substance spreads like wildfire among the rat population.  The resulting creatures are bigger, stronger, and out for blood.  They overrun a large American city in just one night, changing many of the citizens into human rat creature things (I wish Grossart had given these creations names instead of just "creatures").

President Andrew Smith, a stand-up guy whose moral compass is seemingly still intact(ish), is horrified at this turn of events.  He convenes his Cabinet to discuss options.  His Vice President, Allison Perez, urges caution, but the extremely bow-chicka-wow-wow National Security Advisor, Jessie Hruska, is definitely on the hawkish end of the war spectrum.  Plus, Smith finds her attractive, and is wondering if he could feel anything for anyone after losing his wife, Kate, to a terrorist chemical weapons attack on Cleveland (it took me forever to find this in the book, so I was going through the Midwestern cities starting with "c."  There are a lot: Cincinnati, Columbus, Chicago...). In light of reports coming in from Kansas City, Smith orders a large military force to mobilize and encamp around the city.  He also sends in a team of Super Secret Scientists from a Super Secret Installation: "Vanguard, a highly classified government biosafety level 4 complex."

This team is led by Carolyn Ridenour, a character who exists solely to move the plot along and provide ogling opportunities for various men.  Her coworker, Lieutenant Ewing, likes to "[imagine] how nice it would be to peel her out of that biohazard suit, one little zipper at a time."  Carolyn, on the other hand, doesn't really get a great physical description in the book, but even though she's a "self-described brainiac," we know that she's also totally sexy and doesn't know it.  As all female scientists in books must be.


Colonel Garrett later calls her a "brunette Marilyn Monroe" with "one hell of a set of legs."  Where does one purchase sets of legs?  I'm not sure that my short and muscular ones fit in with the common and unattainable beauty standard set in society (and yes, authors are part of that problem too!).  Can I make a trade?  What if I can't afford a Bugatti-type set?  Do I have to settle for "a fine pair of legs"?  Ugh, so much sexism.  

Moving back to the plot, as you may have guessed, conventional weapons don't work against these mysterious creatures, and the President becomes increasingly erratic in his decision making, in part due to his using pretty much only Jessie as his advisor.  

There are some fun scenes back at the Vanguard laboratories, where Carolyn and Garrett (now her personal bodyguard/love interest) perform necropsies on retrieved bodies: one rat, and one human.  Carolyn realizes that part of the contagion is a Soviet biowarfare agent called Gemini.  Not only does it create super soldiers that work best under the cover of night, but it also causes them to basically reproduce asexually, "twinning" themselves and therefore increasing their numbers exponentially.  

Once we hit this point, the President has thrown a ton of munitions at the creatures without making a dent.  They've gone to ground, creating chrysalises in which to perform their amazing cloning act.  The Vice President is still flying around Canada in her plane and things seem a bit stalled.

Pull out the Soviet sleeper agent plot device!

Oh, no.  Look, this only worked in Salt and that's only because Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber are awesome.  Busty, sexy, redheaded Jessie Hruska is in fact ... a secret Soviet spy, embedded in America and taught the secrets of spycraft from her parents.  No matter that the USSR doesn't exist anymore.  For reasons that I still don't understand, Hruska has been maneuvering world events for some time, inching closer to the President's inner circle.  One would think that here she would, I don't know, arrange for some handy assassinations?  No, no, too easy.  Instead she has to apply a transdermal drug that makes the President wide open to suggestion.  This also means that she gets to apply a lot of it during the cringeworthy sex scene.  


In the end, the President is reduced to a drooling pile of jelly, the Veep makes a valiant last stand but amazingly forgets that she's flying in restricted airspace in a foreign country and BAM! shot out of the sky.  Nukes fly all over the world and life as we know it ends.

There's a brief epilogue that describes the fall of humanity and the slow rise of civilization ... by the mutating rat-people.  They're being stalked by pesky sub-animals ... including Carolyn and Garrett.  

Fin

Once I hit the sleeper agent part, I knew things were going to get bad.  I didn't realize how bad.  There's so much in this book that makes absolutely zero logical sense.  There's a massive outbreak of a deadly and mysterious pathogen that transforms animals into ... scarier animals, and neither Mexico nor Canada close their borders!  What?  I mean, that is like biocontainment strategy 101.  Why does only the Vice President get sent away, but the rest of the Cabinet stays at the White House?  And why, oh why, oh why, is Carolyn not a doctor?  I would assume that if you work for the government at a level 4 biohazard facility, you need to have some sort of credentials.  The book just explains this away like, "Oh, Carolyn was like super-smart and got whisked off by the government.  Yay!"  Instead, it's just "Ms. Ridenour" this and "Ms. Ridenour" that.  It makes no sense.

Oh, and in addition to the blatant sexism, Grossart cannot write about anyone who lives east of Cairo without being ugly, disparaging, and outright offensive.  One possible cause of the killer rats is "shaggy, one-eyed mullahs crawling around in caves on the other side of the world."  Beg pardon?  Why are they one-eyed?  Yeah, I'm sure he's bitter about the war in Afghanistan, but good night!  Along the same lines: "The misguided mullahs hated seeing these things [AC-130 "Spookys"] circling their safe little caves.  It was usually the last thing they saw before they were cut to pieces by a hail of good old American steel."  I ... I just ... no.  What is this, a Fox News production?

Carolyn is also exceedingly perplexed by "Hooah!" and says this all the time.  Of course, Grossart has his military people saying "Hooah!" all the time, thus confusing she of the fine legs even more.  

I just don't know what to do with this book.  It had a good, fun premise, but I think Grossart wrote himself into a corner and used his "Get out of jail free with Soviets!" card.  None of the characters are at all three-dimensional, which isn't really par for the course for this subgenre, however, writers like Rollins, Beck, and even Reilly make you care about at least one or two of the characters.  Here, I think the munitions and aircraft are described with more detail.  

To sum up: read only under certain conditions:
  1. All other military/sci-fi/creature feature thrillers have been wiped from the face of the Earth (yes, I would recommend Sharcano over this!).
  2. You don't mind endings that make no sense.
  3. The term "one-eyed mullah" doesn't offend you.

2 comments:

  1. It's self published as far as I can tell and the author doesn't make a living out of it. Well, you got it free, if you don't like it just delete and make space for something you'd rather read. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yes, I knew it was self-published when I picked it. Some really great things have come out of self-publishing, and even some authors who used to be repped by a bigger publisher (Beth Revis, for example) decided to go that route for some books. I've read books that are traditionally published that have similar problems to this one.

    I don't give people a pass for going the self-pub route. I know it's hard and people single you out for it like it's a *bad thing,* but to me, it's just a different means to an end. It seems that he had an editor, because he thanks that person in the acknowledgements for teaching him about split infinitives.

    It was amusing to read, if massively frustrating at times.

    ReplyDelete