Book Review 27: Awesome Sci-Fi thriller

Not television, not radio, not phones, not newspapers -- if you wanted to keep something quiet but let people know you were out there, there was only one answer, the only true global medium: the Internet.

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Scott Sigler's Infected is an awesome book. And I'm not just saying that because he stopped by this blog a couple months back.

Infected is important not only because it's a great book, but because of the way it came to market. If you don't want to buy the book, you can go to Sigler's website and download it as a pod cast. As the weeks go by, Sigler releases more chapters. Or you can go to Meveo and download previous chapters.

The entire book was even available as a free download from the publisher before it hit the shelves.

This is a new approach to media. Like Radiohead, Sigler just put his work our there for anyone to access for free. If they chose to pay for it, they could order the book.

And buy the book they did. Readers bought thousands of copies of the hard cover, even though they could get all the content without paying a penny.

While the book still ended up being published in a traditional format, it remains an example of the things that are possible in the interconnected, digital world.

Infected isn’t a gimmick. It’s a great book. It’s a complex, tightly written sci-fi thriller.

In the Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck used interchapters to break up the narrative. Every other chapter was a short one, not directly related to the Joad family's story, but further exploring the world they were part of. Chuck Klosterman also does this in his essays (my next book review).

In Infected, Sigler does something similar. For much of the book, each chapter changes the focus character. Some of the characters interact; others do not

We follow the story of the naïve young epidemiologist on her first big case as she battles the infection, as well as the bureaucracy and her own inexperience.

"Margaret, he put you in charge of this. What will happen if you insist on talking to the Cheng guy? Do you think Murray is going to bring in someone else to replace you?"

She started to speak, then stopped. No. Murray wouldn't do that. Not because she was the end-all be-all, but because he wanted to keep this tight as a drum. Murray needed her.

"So," Otto said as he gave one strong push. He started spinning, speaking one syllable on each revolution, almost as if he'd read her mind, "Use…what…you…have…."

Her anger faded. Agent Clarence Otto was right.

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We follow the story of the battle hardened clandestine CIA operative who is the muscle for the epidemiologist.

Dew hung up. He took one deep breath, and then the emotions faded away, pushed back to their normal hiding place. That was what he'd needed, to reconnect with the why of what he did. It was for her. It was for a country in which his daughter could live as she pleased, even if it meant living with another woman, even if her father hated it, and hated her mate, with all his heart. There are many places in the world where Sharon would have been killed -- or worse -- for doing what came naturally to her.

Was that cliché? To keep on fighting, and killing when need be, because America was the greatest nation on earth? Probably, but Dew didn't care if the reasons were good, logical, or even cliché. They were his reasons.

And that was enough.

Page 116

We follow the story of the ex-college football player turned network technician as he battles an infection and fights for his life, drawing on every ounce of mental strength he has.

The Ragu wasn't thick enough to make the rice clump, so it was more like a heavy soup than a Spanish rice. But it was still tasty, and it quelled his stomach's grumbling. He shoveled it in as if he'd never seen food before in his life. Man, wouldn't a Quarter Pounder and some supersize fries hit the spot right now? Or Hostess cupcakes. Or a Baby Ruth bar. Or a big old steak and some broccoli with a nice white-cheese sauce. No, scratch all of the above, a bajillion soft tacos from Taco Hell would be the most satisfying thing on the planet. Cram 'em down with Fire Sauce and a bottomless cup of Mountain Dew. It wasn't that his rice was bad, but the texture just didn't ring of solid food, and his stomach longed to be filled like a water balloon on a steamy-hot summer day.

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Even if the soldiers could find him, what could they do for him? How far gone was this monotone cancer that shouted in his head like Sam Kinison on a bad acid trip?

Page 172

And, we follow the story of the infection itself as it goes through its development cycle and grows in sentience.

Most of the seeds survived the feathery fall, but the real test was yet to come. Billions died at the touch of water or the kiss of cold temperatures. Others survived the landing, but found conditions unsuitable for growth. A scant few landed in the right place, but wind, or the brush of a hand, or perhaps even fate, swept them away.

A miniscule percentage, however, found conditions perfect for germination.

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There are times when these different stories converge. There is a fight scene about 2/3 of the way in that is particularly impressive. Sigler doesn’t tell the story from a third person perspective. Instead, he rapidly cycles through the limited perspective of each participant in a way that is shockingly clean and frightening.

The plot, the characters, and the writing are all amazing. The climax leading into the final chapters is impressive.

The book is about more than just the infection. The major theme in the story is about the will to live. The infected network technician fights for his life every step of the way. The infection fights for its own life. Sigler takes us back to Vietnam and we learn of the great battles the CIA agent fought to survive. Infected is ultimately about the battle of the human spirit to find a way to live despite all the odds. And the key to that is choosing to live – making a conscious decision to not give up, despite how easy it may seem.

The subconscious mind is a powerful device. Repeating things over and over to yourself, visualizing a success again and again, virtually programs your brain to go out and make those images a reality. The opposite also holds true -- if you're convinced you're a loser, that you always seem to lose your job, that you can't save money, that you can't lose weight, you tell yourself these things over and over, and guess what? They come true as well. The subconscious mind takes the things it hears over and over and makes them reality. The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between success and failure. The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between what helps you and what hurts you.

The subconscious mind doesn't know the difference between good and evil.

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The biggest crime in Infected is to give up.

The book does feature some graphic violence and home surgery. In an early scene a character chops off his own legs with an axe and then sets himself on fire. It gets more intense from there. The violence isn't gratuitous, though. It's tightly and appropriately woven into the context of the narrative. If you have trouble reading such descriptions, you might want to pass on Infected.

The ending is a little rough. The book really becomes a different type of book at that point; it's much less personal. Those sequences aren't quite as tight and compelling as the rest of the book.

Regardless, this is a fantastic book. If you enjoy good writing, a great story, rich characters that actually grow, and gripping suspense -- and you don't mind a bit of blood -- pick up a copy of Infected today. And read it.

Just don't blame me if you start to feel a little itchy afterwards.

1 comment:

Scott Sigler said...

Good god, what a writeup! Wow, that's one of the coolest takes on my work I've seen yet. Very impressive, and very flattering, thanks!