Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Plague Year by Jeff Carlson

I have to be a little careful here, since I'm planning to send this one to my mother to read--and she's reading this blog. So no spoilers allowed, or at least none that count.

Plague Year is a post-apocalyptic yarn: a medical nano, designed to eat cancer cells and reproduce in a Von Neumann-like way, has escaped into the open and started chewing its way through humanity. When the story opens the only people left alive are the ones who managed to make it to safety above ten thousand feet (the nano shuts down at 0.7 atmospheres of pressure as a built-in failsafe).

That includes our intrepid clan of a dozen heroes and anti-heroes, stuck on a barren mountaintop at the edge of California. There's another small group within signalling distance, but they can't even visit because just one breath taken in the valley between would infect any explorer--and it's hard to climb back out when you're being eaten alive. Yum.

Did I mention the mountaintop is barren? Mammals are going extinct everywhere; our heroes are eating moss and lichen to survive--and each other. "They ate Jorgensen first", the book explains at the outset. "He'd twisted his leg bad--his long white leg." In fact, when someone from the other mountaintop stumbles bleeding and dying into their camp, the first thing they think is, "if he dies we'll eat him," and when he says he wants them to visit, they wonder if it's really a hidden hunting trip.

The book isn't really gruesome, but the author definitely plays this setup for effect. And he does a good job with it--but about halfway through the book sags badly because of some political dragging that never really goes away thereafter. (In all honesty, I skipped about fifteen pages just to get back to where Things Were Happening, and I'm glad I did; I don't think anything important happened in there.) After reading the fairly predictable ending I was fairly surprised to hear there are two more sequels coming, but I'll probably pick up at least the first of those to see what happens.

No comments: