Book Review: Infected

Infected: A Novel
Scott Sigler
Crown Publishers
(c) 2008 by the author

There’s this syndrome out there called “Morgellon’s Disease”. Its symptoms, such as they are, are primarily an unexplained rash accompanied by the usual aches, pains, and tiredness. Occasionally, sufferers have found odd fibers coming out of the affected area. Others have reported the sensation of something crawling around under their skin.

No research to date has come up with a cause (aside from “I told you to stop scratching that, you’ve only made it worse”). The mystery fibers turn out to be bits of cotton, most likely from clothing. That hasn’t stopped people from blaming everything from nanotech to aliens to a government conspiracy.

Sigler’s novel, adapted from a popular series of podcasts, asks and answers the question: “What if Morgellon’s Disease was real?”

There are two primary story lines here. First, there’s the one from the perspective of Perry Dawsey, a former college football star who catches the alien parasites and makes it his personal mission to be tough enough to beat them. Then there’s Dr. Margaret Montoya, a CDC investigator trying to find out what is making people turn into raving pyschos, and then cause their bodies to turn into mush after they eventually kill themselves.

It’s a race against time: can the good guys stop the buggers before they complete their mission, and do so before the general public finds out and starts a mindless panic?

As one might expect from a story adapted from podcasts, the action is very fast-paced with attention-grabbing (i.e. gruesome) details. Have to keep people tuning in for the next installment! But characterization suffers with that approach. Dawsey is the only one who’s filled out in any detail, and he’s a pretty standard “have to be tough to live up to the expectations of my brutally abusive father” type.

If there’s one part that stands out, it’s that the federal government is shown to be actually capable in dealing with the crisis. The Feds move in after only four cases have cropped up, and are quite effective in bringing enough resources to bear. Heck, Dr. Montoya has to be practically bullied into asking for the things she needs that the government is more than willing to give her, if only they knew what she wanted!

A tip for aspiring authors: The Vietnam War ended over forty years ago. Any character who you want to make a Vietnam veteran is going to be pushing sixty at the youngest. They aren’t likely to be “special security agents” on active duty….

I’ll give Sigler a great deal of credit for coming up with an alien invasion idea that I haven’t come across before. And horror writers really should consider using parasites more; their “creepiness” factor cannot be underestimated.

If you don’t mind the blood and gore and body horror, Infected is a good way to kill an afternoon.

I see that there are two sequels; I haven’t read them and don’t expect to at the moment. I didn’t notice any glaring loose ends in the novel that demanded further explanation, so I guess they were just written because of reader/publisher demand.

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