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.”
Contagious and Infected are available as free serialized podiobooks at www.podiobooks.com
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