Saturday, November 21, 2020

Book Reviews: Cold Storage

Cold Storage
by David Koepp

This story is just under 400 pages. It's by the screenwriter and director David Koepp, among other things the screenwriter for Jurassic Park, whose work was previously reviewed here and here. Cold Storage is your typical end of the world terror thriller. It imagines that after the Skylab crash in 1979 something else came back from outer space, something that views other living beings in the same way that we would view cattle. I like these sorts of stories in general so I was positively disposed toward the story. It uses just enough science to be believable to those of us who are not biologists, physicists, medical doctors, or otherwise well trained in scientific discipline. I guess if you are interested in this sort of prose the book might be right up your alley:
"We sent up a hyperaggressive extremophile that is resistant to extreme heat and the vacuum of space, but sensitive to cold. The environment sent the organism into a dormant state, but it remained hyper-receptive. At that point, it must have picked up a hitchhiker. Maybe it was exposed to solar radiation. Maybe a spore penetrated the microfissures in the tank on re-entry. Either way, when the fungus returned to Earth, it was reawakened and found itself in a hot, safe, protein-rich, pro-growth environment. And something caused its higher level genetic structure to change."
In 1987 Roberto Diaz, a Pentagon bioterror expert, is called upon to investigate some unsettling issues in Western Australia. One co-worker dies and Diaz barely escapes with his life. A fungus that normally just attacks insects and grows slowly now has a taste for warm blooded creatures, can grow exponentially, and most ominously seems to have the ability to learn and evolve at record, maybe even exponential speeds. 
Almost all of the fungus is eradicated via firebombing, but of course the military being the military the decision is made to bring a sample back to the US. It could serve as a weapon. It could let us know about life in outer space. It might be useful for something some day. In any event the US certainly can't let the Russians or Chinese get it.
However all of those plans come to nothing. The sample of Corcyceps novus is stored in a secure government facility with proper temperature controls and other failsafe security systems. The people who needed to know what Diaz and the other surviving team member knew have mostly died or retired. With government budget cuts the Kansas government facility where the deadly fungus was stored has been sold to private investors who have turned it into a storage facility.  Now retired, Diaz is almost seventy and frail. He's at the point in life when the deaths of friends, family, and former co-workers are no longer shocking but expected events. 
When two security guards pulling a night shift at the storage facility hear a persistent alarm emanating from an area of the facility that is not on any blueprints they think that the proper thing to do is to break through the walls in search of the alarm. Obviously they find more than they expected to find. And Diaz may be their only hope.
This was a decent read. I don't think the characters were all that memorable but in books like this they rarely are. I think I would have enjoyed the story more if it were a little longer and more spread out in different areas of a city or the country. The majority of the tale takes place in one night at the storage facility. This felt like a movie, not surprising considering who the writer was, but I wanted a little more. Still considering the pandemic we are currently enduring, reading about an organism whose only interest is to spread and reproduce, regardless of the impact on the host, was suitably nerve-wracking.
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