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Plague War by Jeff Carlson
Cover Artist: Eric Williams
Review by Harriet Klausner
Ace Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780441016174
Date: 29 July 2008 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

It has been fourteen months since a nano-plague was released on mankind; billions have died as the bug eats away at organic matter at elevations below 10,000 feet. These machines fail above that altitude due to the freezing conditions. Cities are in ruins and anything still living below the line of demarcation is fodder for the nanotech killing machines.

The United States government has relocated in Leadville, Colorado. The leaders want to find scientist Ruth Goldman, who has created the first generation vaccine to prevent the nanotech machines from feasting. They want to use her vaccine as a weapon to control what is left of the world; they will be God choosing who lives and who dies. The government negotiates with the Russians to fly their people to India and the United States.

Meanwhile Ruth and her fiend Cam Najarro just want to inoculate everyone. They are now enemies of the state but they still they continue their slow inoculation program by traveling around the country. However, her goal to vaccine everyone is disrupted when a Russian plane exploded a nuclear bomb over Leadville. The Russians are flying in troops and civilians as are the Chinese to live in a comparatively decent area that wasn't decimated like their countries. Ruth has a brainstorm on how to stop the war which the United States is losing and has an idea how to keep a new human catastrophe from happening if her new theory works.

Plague War is an adrenaline pumping science fiction thriller that keeps readers' interest from the onset and never decelerates until the final confrontation. The author paints a bleak landscape of a dying planet in which man caused the pandemic and in their waning existence remains barbaric in a war for survival. At a time when people need help, the powerful few running the American and Russian governments do what they always do, grab for more power at the cost of everyone else. Thus in spite of the global catastrophe, leaders grabbing for more power remains the norm even if the price is human extinction.

Surprisingly with the theme of the overall plot being a bit over the top of the Rockies action thriller, the characters interestingly represent three groups. They are either selfish seeking more for themselves including killing others; they are altruistic trying to save the world one person at a time; or they are frightened hiding from nanotech machines and the government (American, Russian, or whatever as Jeff Carlson makes a case that formal egomaniacal leaders are the same all over as their goal is self interest leaving to the informal leader to save the day). Ruth is a terrific informal leader who is not afraid to fight back although all she wants to do is save the world one inoculation at a time.

The audience should first read the previous novel Plague Year before this novel so as to better understand what led to where the world is now at; the brink of human extinction as well to know what makes key players, especially Ruth and Cam so dedicated to keep trying against impossible odds. Jeff Carlson proves he is a magnificent world builder and destroyer as he writes a mesmerizing tale of science and technology going astray. Riveting and frightening the future is very dark in Carlson's world, but a few lights give hope that humanity will survive this ordeal with a new harmony.

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