I was about a third of the way through PANDEMIC when I happened to notice the fine print on one of the containers of hand sanitizer that one can find all around the house. The label advises that said product “kills more than 99.9% of germs.” That is supposed to make us feel better, and it would, but for the fact that there are 1) billions and billions of the things, and 2) some of them --- including ones that are after YOU --- just lap that stuff up like your brother-in-law at an open bar. Accordingly, even if said sanitizer can kill most of those, it still leaves a bunch, like a million or so at least, that it can’t touch.
PANDEMIC, the third book in an apparent trilogy (after INFECTED and CONTAGIOUS), will get you thinking about such things, and considering taking baths in sanitizer, bleach, or anything that kills germs, and along the way will scare the living immunities out of you. Naturally, I loved every frightening minute of it.
"PANDEMIC...will get you thinking about such things, and considering taking baths in sanitizer, bleach, or anything that kills germs, and along the way will scare the living immunities out of you. Naturally, I loved every frightening minute of it."
The threat in this unforgettable universe --- our universe --- created by Scott Sigler comes not from within, but without. If you have not read INFECTED or CONTAGIOUS, it is not necessary to do so before cracking the binding on PANDEMIC, but you will want to, trust me. Set a week aside, pull the blinds up, shut your phone off, and get ready to catch up and be terrified. The (very oversimplified) premise of this series is that spores that are released by a malevolent alien intelligence through a probe called The Orbital and land on our Earth, begin taking us over, one person at a time, in a very nasty way. Human beings triumph twice against this invasion, but as is demonstrated here, the worst is yet to come. The delivery method is capable of evolving to launch a counterattack.
The latest threat has just been released in Lake Michigan, where a nuclear submarine has retrieved a cannister from The Orbital. Remember the Bugs Bunny cartoons where Elmer Fudd would reach into the rabbit hole, grab Bugs and say, “I got you now!” and Bugs would reply, “On the contrary! I’ve got you!”? Despite the efforts of our best scientific minds, including series stalwart Margaret Montoya, the microbe invasion launches yet again. Fortunately, about a third of the way through the book, a cure is found, humanity is saved, and the remaining two-thirds consist of various characters living happily ever after.
Except that’s not what happens. Sigler, who must moonlight as a sadist, isn’t satisfied with one ticking clock. He gets another grisly one going in the form of a Chinese espionage agent set on capturing whatever it is that the Americans have in the hopes of turning it into a weapon. He is successful and heads toward Chicago on a boat, with no idea what he really has. I wondered while I was reading who was screaming “NO!” It was me. And I’m not even all that fond of Chicago. Then, just when it seems that things can’t get any worse, because you can’t imagine them getting any worse, Sigler steps right up and demonstrates just how bad they truly can get.
There are parts of PANDEMIC that make Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD read like an inspirational work. If you asked me what my favorite element of the book is and put an alien virus up to my ear, I would answer “the science.” Sigler doesn’t throw a bunch of equations at the reader. He does two things that make the novel, like its predecessors, a winner. The first is that he explains the scientific principles behind what is happening so well that they are understandable even to someone whose knowledge of such matters is extremely limited (that would be me, for one). The second is that he does so without halting or pausing the storyline; he, in fact, uses the explanations to ratchet the terror factor up a notch or 20. It’s difficult to do, but Sigler makes it look easy.
I can’t wait for the movie. Actually, I can. PANDEMIC keeps re-running itself in my head, and that is good --- or bad --- enough. Do not miss this one, even if you hate having the bodily fluids scared out of you.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 24, 2014