Saturday, September 9, 2017

Book Reviews: Pandemic

by Scott Sigler
Pandemic is the conclusion to the sci-fi/thriller trilogy started in Infected (reviewed earlier here). This book has been out for a minute but I just recently got around to reading it. This was a shame because Pandemic is a really good story. But on the other hand I recently happened to be stuck at a few places where there was nothing else to do but read so this came in very handy. Sigler doesn't write, or rather I should say I haven't read, anything that is overtly supernatural, and Pandemic is no different. Obviously scientific reality is stretched but the dangers in Pandemic are based in plausible, although very unlikely events. The stage Sigler sets is much larger in the final series installment than in Infected and the middle book Contagious. There are some characters from prior books who return for Pandemic. I liked that previous events left marks on people. It made the depictions breathe.

All of us are literally teeming with bacteria, viruses, germs, and parasites. Many of these are essential for continued life. Others apparently have no major effect on us, for good or bad. And a small minority are dangerous to our health and life and those of other humans. Our immune system has evolved to prevent many of these organisms from killing us. But what happens if a superior alien intelligence bypasses or hijacks our immune system and rewrites our DNA in order to change humanity into something else entirely? That was the premise of the first two books. An alien Orbital encountered Earth. Relying on previously encoded instructions it seeded Earth (well mostly Michigan -the author is a Michigan native) with infections that were a combination of virus/machine/plant material. The infected humans changed. They attempted to convert other humans and build a gateway to allow the aliens to transfer themselves to Earth. These attempts failed. The US government destroyed the Orbital along with the changed humans.

However, Pandemic postulates that the artificial intelligence encoded in the Orbital was capable of learning from its mistakes. Before it was destroyed it altered the algorithm and purpose of the infectious agents it released upon humanity. It got smarter. And although it was destroyed, a small payload portion of the Orbital, no larger than a pop can, fell to Earth, in Lake Michigan to be precise.

Margaret Montoya is a CDC doctor whose work and drive were essential to saving humanity from the alien menace. However she has fallen into a deep depression because thanks to her swift investigative work many people think that the threat wasn't real. Everyone noticed the nuking of Detroit though. And lots of folks think that Montoya was part of a government conspiracy to use nukes on American soil. Montoya's depression, guilt, whining, and self-pity have finally caused her virtually selfless husband, CIA agent and military veteran Clarence Otto, to run out of patience and seek a divorce. 

In Lake Michigan the US Navy and Special Forces teams are searching for any remaining alien technology or infectious agents. However an up and coming foreign nation has taken note of the US ship movements. This nation activates some local deep sleeper cells to get to Lake Michigan and steal any alien tech before the US Navy can find it. Murray Longworth, deputy CIA director and Director of the Office of Special Threats is having issues serving under the new President, Sandra Blackmon. Blackmon is a conservative religious Republican who doesn't believe in aliens. She thinks the threat was terrestrial in nature. About half of the country  agrees with her, which is why she won the recent election. Cooper Mitchell runs a Benton Harbor underwater construction/salvage business with his friend and partner Jeff Brockmon. But business is bad. Very bad. So it's something of a godsend when young student Steve Stanton hires Cooper and Jeff to take him and his friend Bo Pan out on Lake Michigan to some very specific coordinates. There's an incident. More than one actually. Before too long Montoya and Otto are pulled back into action. This time they'll have to work with Doctor Tim Feely, who is perceptive enough to pick up on the tension between the estranged husband and wife and boorish enough to try to flirt with Montoya while he's supposed to be trying to save the world.

Sigler pulls out all the stops in Pandemic. I was also reminded of the movie Contagion. This book was just under 600 pages but I think I read it in less than a week. I couldn't put it down. I was in a rush to finish other things so I could get back to this story. There's very little wasted prose. Sigler has done his research into realms of knowledge such as medical lab procedures, forensics, biology, physics, robotics, military tactics, emergency government plans and medicine. It shows. The book drips with realism. Think about all the alien invasion or medical infection movies/books you've ever seen or read. Pandemic blows all of them away. It combines clinical details of how the updated virus works to defeat human attempts to detect, detain or destroy it along with visceral descriptions of how the infected humans behave. If you like medical thrillers you've just got to read this book. On the other hand this is Sigler so occasionally things can get...gruesome. 

There's plenty of break neck action, black humor, last stands, chess matches between those infected and those not, suspense, and thousands of bullets. Sigler seamlessly weaves together terror found underneath a microscope with the horror of things running amok on the streets across the planet. In today's world we are more connected than ever before. With modern travel it's more difficult to isolate contagions. There are more than a few detective elements because the reader doesn't always know who is infected, even if we are seeing things from that character's point of view. Although this concludes the trilogy, it works well as a stand-alone read. My only quibble was I would have liked to get more of Otto's POV and a little less of Montoya's. That aside, this was an immensely satisfying read. 
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