Pandemic (Infected #3)

This book is a conundrum. It was a page-turner--I can't remember the last time I whipped through a 600+ page book in such a short period of time--but it also basically had lost all momentum and the characters were two-dimensional. I suppose I kept reading because of the aliens, and also because of the brilliance of the first book in the series--but this book lacked what made Infected so special: one "Scary" Perry Dawsey, ex-linebacker and anti-hero.

You could read Pandemic on its own, since most of the characters are new or minor characters from the previous books, but if you were only able to read one book in this series, make it the first one. Here's a brief catch-up/synopsis getting into book three. From here on out, there be spoilers everywhere.

I mean it.

Okay, here we are. In Infected, we're introduced to Perry Dawsey. He's big and brawny and slightly unhinged. When an alien pod, long-buried on Earth, awakens and sends out triangular crawlers that infest humans, wrapping barbed tentacles around major organs and then bursting out of flesh like a girl out of a cake. The Triangles make you do things--awful things. Perry is infected, and he knows he has to stop the triangles. He does some really awful things, but he's also one of the bravest characters I've ever read. He'll give up anything in order to keep living and stop the aliens. Infected is a character study: how far would you go in order to live? What would you be willing to lose? Or ... cut off?

Contagious opens the story up and Perry's struggles become public. The government gets involved with the Triangle infestation and calls in CDC doctor Margaret Montoya when the aliens mutate and start making people straight-up explode. Eventually, the only way to stop the aliens from building a portal to their world is to nuke Detroit. So they nuke Detroit.

Pandemic opens with the last thoughts of the alien pod before it subsumes to the radioactive blast of the nuclear warhead. It develops two final iterations of infection: the triangles are very obvious, and as Perry Dawsey pointed out, stoppable if you cut them out. The "puffball" humans that end up exploding and infecting a wide area are slow to incubate and also rather noticeable. The alien intelligence needs smarts and it needs brawn.

Margo Montoya has fallen apart. Her marriage to Agent Otto (I guess he was a love interest in the other book?) is over, partially because she sits in her room all day and reads hateful message boards where scummy people excoriate her for asking Detroit to be nuked. The other part is that Otto is a void of a human being--which may just be the way his character is written; I am unsure--and only shows enthusiasm when it comes to following orders and being MURICAN. Because SIR YES SIR he will follow orders (but he loves Margo!) but ORDERS. I really hated that Sigler took Margaret from the strong person she was in Contagious and turned her into someone who is deeply selfish and self-absorbed. I understand studying the effects of guilt and trauma on a character, but when she changes so fundamentally so as to become an irritant, maybe you've gone too far.

When the nuclear submarine Los Angeles* is destroyed in a very strange naval battle on Lake Michigan, Murray Longworth, head of the super dark government departments that specialize in events like alien triangles trying to build a transdimensional portal in Michigan, realizes that American ships don't usually attack one another and that they must have been under alien influence. He commands Margo (and by extension, Clarence, because Clarence follows Margaret around like a puppy--a very boring puppy) to get on board the Brashear, a vessel that survived the attack and is looking for alien artifacts. There, they meet up with Tim Feely.

Ugh, Tim Feely. Tim is a wunderkind pervert whose single-minded determination to sleep with Margaret is basically his entire character ARC, except for the weird part at the end when he turns into a caveman and this Navy SEAL is all, "Bro, you are a warrior!" At any given moment in the book, Feely is either making an excruciatingly bad pass or squawking about how smart he is.

Anyway, Tim and Margo study the bodies recovered from the Los Angeles and find "hydras" in one crew member's brain that inhibited the spread of the Triangles. Convenient.

Meanwhile, also on Lake Michigan, a charter boat run by two dudes from Michigan who really need some cash carries two curious men and one very large robot submarine. One of the latter men is Bo Pan, a Chinese spy handler, and his secret agent, Steve. Steve is an American guy whose parents are Chinese, but he's always dreamed of receiving glory in China. So he uses his genius intellect to create a robot that will find the remaining alien artefacts and give them to the Chinese government to be weaponized. Only very late in the game does he realize that this is actually treason and also maybe a very bad idea.

Tim's robo-sub retrieves the alien cylinder, but it doesn't really matter, because people on the Navy ships are already infected, despite testing negative for signs of alien infection. Margo and Tim synthesize a hydra beer (no really-they use yeast) as an inoculant, but the infected crew members, now called the Converted, destroy the ship before very much can be made.

The current President, a praise-Jesus conservative Christian, doesn't believe in aliens, but she does believe in demons and the wrath of God, so she authorizes the rescued Margo and Tim to produce more yeasty goodness. Except it doesn't really matter. Literally nothing that happened on the ship, which takes up a good 40% of the book, really matters. Thanks.

Steve narrowly escapes being eliminated by his handler and goes with the two boat guys, Jeff and Cooper, to Chicago. Since they are all infected, they become Patients Zero of this new pandemic. Jeff turns into a hulking monster with bone-shard knuckles, and Steve becomes an Evil Alien Mastermind. Cooper feels gross but does not convert--could it have been that slightly mysterious drug trial that he participated in? Hmm.

Iron Man chin rub

From here on out there's lots of looting and killing and eating. It's super obvious from the beginning that Margo is infected and will become Converted, but it takes everyone else forever to figure this out. I guess we are supposed to care about Cooper and how he sort of felt bad for eating Sofia, the lady he kind-of tried to help but then gave up in order to save his own skin (literally).

I felt driven to see if we'd learn anything new about the aliens, but everything that was interesting and new in the prior two books felt tired and beaten down in this one. It's a fairly standard end-of-the-world book, with none of the style or panache of Infected. The series suffers dreadfully from Perry Dawsey's absence. I can't help wondering if Sigler hit his peak with Infected; his new-ish YA series Alive was a complete fail for me. It repeated some of the ideas in this book--like marking people with different geometric symbols for their purpose in society--but was mostly about a bunch of super-hot, scantily-dressed teens fighting each other in space.

At the end of the ARC of Alive, Sigler wrote an author's note asking (that word feels too polite, but let's roll with it) readers not to post any spoilers because that just ruins everything! He has a bit of a mania about spoilers, it seems, as he commented on my review of Contagion on the blog and asked me to take some bits out because he thought they were spoilers. Because I was young and intimidated, I did. A few years later, when I was so bitterly let down by the Alive series, I wrote this post and then this review in a fit of "Damn the spoilers; full speed ahead!" bravura.

No matter how I feel about that behavior, I still would recommend Infected as a standalone horror read. I'm interested in trying some of Sigler's other, older titles, but it's doubtful I'll pick up anything new from him.

*Please correct me if I'm wrong here, but Pandemic is set in our future. Why did they send a ballistic missile submarine to help troll Lake Michigan for bits of alien wreckage? The following is all confusion based on my numerous viewings of The Hunt for Red October and a quick Google search:
It seems that most submarine classes are inaugurated (correct word???) with the name-bearing ship. So the USS Los Angeles was the first Los Angeles-class attack ship put to sea in 1976 and was decomissioned in 2010. It no longer exists.

However, there are other Los Angeles-class subs in active service. Although the Navy reuses ship names, at present, there are no commissioned vessels named the Los Angeles. Obviously, this is a work of fiction, and the author can name the ships whatever he wants, but I thought it was strange and confusing to name a submarine the same name as a decomissioned submarine. It's definitely a Los Angeles-class attack sub, however, as those are (mostly) named after U.S. cities.


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