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Literature Review

Contagious – Novel Review

Contagious – Novel Review
  • By Scott Sigler
  • Hodder & Stoughton

Coming hard on the heels of its predecessor, this sequel to the bloodthirsty, gruesome, spectacularly violent “Infected” is another throwaway Airport Novel. You know the kind of thing I mean: a big, fat book full of colour and action that you buy from one of those airport bookstores, read in-flight, then abandon somewhere in a taxicab at the other end of your journey feeling none the poorer. It’s an unashamed piece of escapism, playing to the bored high school kid in all of us, and while it’s never going to be anybody’s definition of literature, it’s got its place.

Building on the success of the original, “Contagious” keeps the same cast of characters, but shifts up a gear. Since the Terrible Space Spores (and the fiendish alien invaders into which they grew) had their asses righteously kicked in the last book, we’re introduced to the Orbital — the piece of alien technology up there in the sky, devising all these hideous bits of nastiness with which to turn innocent Americans into slavering zomboid tools of alien domination. This new character serves only to create ever more cunning and brutal agents of human destruction, thus challenging our heroes to ever greater feats of derring-do, endurance — and of course, grisly mass slaughter.

One of the more interesting features of “Contagious”, however, is the degree to which Sigler’s abilities as a writer have grown. Not to put too fine a point on it, the cast of characters in the first book were pretty generic. We had Dr Margaret Montoya, the attractive CDC scientist-with-a-conscience and her wise-cracking scientist buddy Amos. We had cynical, hard-bitten Agent Dew Phillips of the CIA, hell-bent on revenge for the ugly death of his partner. We had the Streetsmart And Cool Black Guy in CIA Agent Clarence Otto, driver and bodyguard to Dr Montoya. And of course, we had Perry Dawsey, the violent psychopath with the tortured childhood.  Without ever venturing beyond the comfortably two-dimensional, this group managed to defeat the Alien Space Spores last time, and they all return early in the pages of “Contagious” to continue the job.

However, this time around Sigler offers us a little more weight and depth. The relationship between Montoya and Otto develops, and then goes entertainingly pear-shaped. The politically-savvy bossman of the team — Murray Longworth — goes from being simply a convenient plot device that allows the team to fight aliens unhindered by the usual considerations of legal process to being a character of interest in his own right, with doubts and fears and occasional lapses of judgement. Most intriguing of all is the weird, skewed, violent but effective father-son relationship which grows up between ageing tough-guy Dew Phillips and the increasingly isolated and violent Perry Dawsey. Sigler develops this relationship effectively, and utilises it cleverly to permit a satisfyingly climactic denouement to the novel.

The rest? Well, this time the Alien Spores produce not only Alien Spawn, but a new hybrid alien/human supermind-commander in the form of little Chelsea Jewell. Infected with a new kind of spore, Chelsea becomes an earthly leader to the Spawn, acting first to assist the enigmatic Orbital, and then eventually, once her child-like self-centeredness comes to the fore, to carry out her own unique version of Domination of Planet Earth.

The plot crackles along more effectively than the last. We’re less bound up with slowly disintegrating victims of the Spores, and more involved with the team fighting to save Earth. With infections, contagion, betrayals and a body-count that eventually incorporates the entirety of a major American city, “Contagious” moves along nicely to an explosive climax that still manages to leave the way open for a further sequel if sales justify it.

Once again: it’s a lightweight page-turner, a piece of gory, violent fluff that you’ll forget within a week of reading it, but it’s a fine example of its kind. And if the SyFy channel happen to be looking around for a decent film-script idea, they could do a hell of a lot worse than “Contagious.”


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About The Author


Dirk Flinthart is a mildly notorious writer, raconteur and sometime rakehell bunkered in the forbidding hills of north-east Tasmania. He's probably best known as an occasionally fictitious character in John Birmingham's books, but the reality is both stranger, and far more coherent. Flinthart's recent works include Angel Rising (with Twelfth Planet Press), Canterbury 2100 (as editor, courtesy of Agog! fiction) and he has a story shortlisted to the 2008 Aurealis Awards. Having just completed his black belt in ju-jitsu and begun his studies of Iaido, Flinthart is confident of surviving the coming Zombie Apocalypse in fine fashion, and expects to continue writing speculative fiction long after the undead have eaten your rich, gooey brains...

Article Information

  • Posted: Tuesday, November 24th, 2009
  • Author: Dirk Flinthart
  • Filed Under: Literature,Review


4 Responses to “Contagious – Novel Review”
  1. avatar Scott Sigler says:

    Thanks for the review of CONTAGIOUS, seems like you enjoyed the read. However, since CONTAGIOUS won't fit anyone's definition of "literature," that seems to indicate literature is actually defined. I'd love to know what your definition is. Please define it for me, and not by using examples such as "literature is like FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS," but give your specific definition if you could.

  2. avatar Bruce Moyle says:

    While I like Scott's work (this is why I purchased the novels) I knew this wasn't completely your cup of tea Dirk. I must admit that I actually like the podcast versions better even though it has less content than the printed version. The reason is because of the performance that Scott put's into the presentation. It's weird, but it's like having an attachment to the first version that you where exposed too more than what people generally call the "better" version. An example would be Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, I personally prefer out of the versions the radio plays as that is what I was first exposed too, where as most people go for the books. I won't even comment about the people who saw the BBS TV series first.

    Now I wonder if I should give you a copy of the Rookie I have sitting in the house (signed by Scott of course).

  3. avatar Barnesm says:

    Yeah I too enjoyed them more as a serialised podcast, don't know it that says more about me or as they way the story is written.

  4. avatar Flinthart says:

    Gently does it, Mr Sigler — if you've read any of my reviews elsewhere, you'll be well aware that being classified outside of "literature" is no insult from me. In fact, I'm pretty much completely fed up with what passes for capital-ell Literature these days, and I'm quite happy to say so in public.

    Having said so much — that's not an answer to the question you asked. Therefore, in an effort at fairness: I don't have a definition. There's fiction that's dull. There's fiction that's entertaining. Then there's fiction which is entertaining, complex, and thought-provoking. And then there's fiction which achieves all that and goes farther, possibly engaging layers of metaphor and symbolism to create a unique relationship between the work of fiction and recognisable elements of the human condition – a relationship which leaves the reader feeling as though they've taken on board something which has the potential to change the way they think and feel about the world.

    I don't often run across books which do that, and "For Whom The Bell Tolls" wasn't one of those. "The Master And Margharita" was, yes. So was "Crime And Punishment." But then, so was "Neuromancer", and likewise the collecte output of Cordwainer Smith.

    Do these things equal "Literature"? Damned if I know. But I do know I can go back, re-read these works, and continue to find new insights, new thoughts, new interpretations, and for me, that's sufficient.

    Going farther, though: each and every time I sit down to one of those books I listed, I know I'm taking on a challenge. Concentration is required, and thought. And you know what? I don't always want that. Sometimes I want to sit down and enjoy a fast-moving adventure story with fluid, effective writing, reasonably interesting characters, good pace, and a cool plot.

    If and when I put a full-length novel into print, if it achieves that much, I'll count myself very pleased indeed.

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