Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Pandemic book

About a week ago, there was a meme on social media that your DJ name would be DJ + the way you would least like to die. At the time, I put down DJ 3rd Degree Burns Over 90% of My Body, but I belatedly realized that a close contender would be DJ Hemorrhagic Fever. Being turned inside out and bleeding from various orifices is a horrific way to die. So, in case I get burned, please accidentally unplug me, and if I get Ebola or Marburg, same. Or just ... do something quickly.

I read two of A.G. Riddle's prior books (the third in the Atlantis trilogy was a bit too woo woo even for me, and I have a high woo tolerance) and was reasonably entertained by them. Since his latest book, Pandemic, was free on Kindle Unlimited, I snagged it. I'm a bit shocked that this is the first in a new series called The Extinction Files, because this book could easily have been three separate ones itself. It's quite long and tells (at least!) three disparate stories. At the end, I was so frustrated with the book, because it felt like the author got caught on tangents and there was no editor to guide them back on track. While I started out being entertained, I finished out of sheer stubbornness.

The first third of the novel is the best section: it's pretty tightly written and has a compelling threat. The character interactions are a bit hackneyed, but I'm not exactly looking for a Jane Austen social commentary in a book about THE POSSIBLE END OF THE WORLD BY A VIRUS AHHHHH! You know, a popcorn book. However, it's evident that the author had tons of ideas, which is pretty amazing, since I would love to write a book and have negative ideas. Alas, nothing got edited out; therefore, we end up with several different books in one:

  • a medical thriller
  • a Jason Bourne-style espionage novel featuring a man of many talents
  • a conspiracy thriller about shell corporations with a dash of startup culture
  • a Deep Impact-style catastrophe survival story
  • a love story
  • the story of an MI-5 operative infiltrating an organization that wants to control the world in order to save it
As if this weren't complicated enough, toss in some flashbacks and you've got one hairy narrative to try and track. Let me show you what I mean (show! Don't tell!).

A man wakes up in a hotel room. His body is thoroughly bruised, he has no memory of who he is or what he's doing, and, most worryingly, there is a dead man in the room with him. In his pocket he finds a phone number and a laundry ticket with a name printed across the top: Desmond Hughes.  and when you have no memory you just follow the clues that are left. The phone number is a landline (bundling is cheaper!) belonging to a CDC scientist named Peyton Shaw. He calls her and warns her about ... well, he has no idea what he's warning her about, but he's compelled to do it, and then takes off on an epic shake-your-tail chase in Berlin, only to get captured again. Sigh.

Meanwhile, in Mandera, Kenya...

Dr. Elim Kazbet tries to keep his small regional hospital running, but it feels like a losing battle. With the attacks from an ISIS splinter group to the north, no one supports the hospital. When two Americans and a British man come in, two with signs of viral hemorrhagic fever, Dr. Kazbet does his best ... but what if that's not good enough to contain the spread? The men who are ill show symptoms of both Marburg and Ebola--it's an entirely new disease.

When the CDC finds out about the outbreak, they enlist super scientist Dr. Peyton Shaw to assemble a strike team to land on the moon and deactivate the field generator.



Wait, no, that's Return of the Jedi. Shaw actually has to put together a team of scientists who are in the civil service to try and isolate patient zero of the outbreak, as well as stop it from spreading. We, the readers, know this is Doomed to Failure because, well, there wouldn't be a book if they failed. Peyton wonders about the strange phone call she got from Desmond, but has to focus on the work at hand.

Back in Atlanta, Peyton's boss Elliott realizes that things are going to get really, really bad if the government enacts a certain protocol, so he gathers his neighbors and Hatches A Plan to survive. The plan is: liquidate all their assets and buy RVs.


Don't look at me. I still don't understand why they bought all the transportation if a) the virus is highly contagious and therefore inescapable and b) they only end up using one near the end of the book. What was his glorious plan to save them all? Just ... drive off in an RV? Start living that retiree life early?

This is all like 20% of the way into the book. It KEEPS GOING. People get shot, infected, kidnapped, rescued, re-kidnapped, and held captive in the Georgia Dome. Our heroes are Desmond and Peyton, together at last after an excruciatingly long set of flashbacks where we find out that:

  • Desmond is emotionally damaged by almost dying in the fire that killed his family 
  • Then being raised by a cold and crusty oil rig worker of an uncle isn't much help either
  • But he's also a computer genius
  • He falls in love with Peyton in college but can't commit because he's too afraid to love again
  • He's a total turd and dumps her "for her own good"
Oh yeah, and then there's the bit with Peyton's dead brother and her missing father and her emotionally distant mother. 


I am woefully ill-equipped to describe to you the frantic jumps in the story, so please, just take my word for it. And in this world, people in Africa speak "African-accented English."



However, I will give the book credit for being immensely entertaining in its first third (or so). I get a bit of a schadenfreude thrill when reading about epidemics--I find myself immensely relieved that I do not have that disease, and I find the various ways that viruses and bacteria can destroy a living organism both fascinating and terrifying.

This would have been immensely better had the author picked one or two storylines to focus on, and decided whether or not this was going to be a hard-science medical thriller or a specfic book. The way the two are juxtaposed in the text is jarring and doesn't flow well.

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