Syne Mitchell's The Changeling Plague



That is the first word that pops in my head while thinking up a review for this book. Meh.

That is not to say that I didn't like it. I didn't like certain aspects of it. Two, to be precise: 1) its incomplete research into the fields (read "factual errors") that it tries to sound expert on and 2) its somewhat wasted potential. Outside of these things, it was kind of fun, a short read, and had some intense moments.

Dr. Lilith Watkins is a "young" disease research working for the CDC. She had been involved in research that had been scrapped after a version (unattached to her, unless I read it wrong) of similar research created on of the worst plagues ever to hit humanity. A virus designed to fix the genetic code of humans mutates and starts reprogramming it and spreads like wildfire. She rescues a young boy, immune to the Mahn's Disease, but is unable to save his sister. Idaho Davis, the young boy, mourns the loss of his sister Blue, studies computers, and then disappears.

Geoffery Allen (I KNOW, a normal name!) makes up the last of this books three central characters. He is a man who seeks a cure from his genetically induced cystic fibrosis (I say that like you can get it any other way). He is rich enough to bribe a researcher into violating the new Beijing Treaty of 2013, a rule which states that it is illegal to use the genetic viral research that lead to Mahn's Disease.

What extends from this point is a combination of disease based techno-thriller involving computer hacking and a meandering morality tale of what happens to the mighty after they have infected the planet with a disease, but have lost everything that they ever loved and feel really bad for everything.

Mitchell's writing just breaks down in several points, as does her research. I do not know what is worse, reading lines written as blase as "Lam's conservative policies were endangering the public. Why couldn't he see that?" passed off as intense internal moments, or hearing AIDS described as a virus? Moments of overly simple writing can be said to be a symptom of the reading public as much as the writer. A lot of people prefer this style. So I guess the "worse" is the shoddy way that research for this book takes on the flavor of cursory glances at Wikipedia articles.

Though HIV is the base virus, we have a virus which spreads via brief air contact. This is explained as the disease "coming into contact with a wild virus" which seems too deus ex machina. Does HIV interact with other viruses? And if so, why would they use it?

There are more such hiccups involving computer technology, as well as an odd view of hackers taken, I suppose, from Hackers. The worst one that pops in my head involves a hacker's search for a "shredder" program, saying that only someone with something to hide would have one. This is actually not true. My computer came with one by default. Hackers would know this, but I suppose it is the future. Maybe people have different default installs then.

The book has a descent pace and characters you can actually care about. Even rich boy Allen, who should probably be reviled (and would be in most novels), is passed off as a sympthatetic character, more so than either Lilith or Idaho.

The most fun of the novel comes from Idaho's handling of the human genetic code in a same way as a computer code. There are a lot of fun moments that grow out of this, but I'll save them for you to read if you care.

Too bad the ending goes that one step too far. I honestly sighed when I read it. It fit in with the story, at least kind of. It was just a bit much. Reminded me of that book The Wyrm, which is another book that starts with some sketchy research and ends up heading deep into left field with it, nearly infectious in its completely over the top handling.

Read it if you are a fan of Michael Crichton or Robin Cook and are looking for something new. Besides that, probably avoid.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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