Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Review: The Jakarta Pandemic by Steven Konkoly
My first review Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Review Challenge! I actually thought about doing the ground-breaking review on The Stand before deciding that reviewing a novel that's thirty-five years old was probably against the spirit of the review challenge. I also love that damned book so much (even the uncut edition that you could beat someone to death with) that it would have been the blogging equivalent of throwing glitter repeatedly against the screen. However, I do love me a good pandemic, and the ominous oranges and reds on the cover of this one tugged me in right away.
Summary: In the late fall of 2013, a lethal pandemic virus emerges from the Islamic Republic of Indonesia and rages unchecked across every continent. When the Jakarta Flu threatens his picture perfect Maine neighborhood, Alex Fletcher, Iraq War veteran, is ready to do whatever it takes to keep his family safe. As a seasoned sales representative for Biosphere Pharmaceuticals, makers of a leading flu virus treatment, Alex understands what a deadly pandemic means for all of them. He particularly knows that strict isolation is the only guaranteed way to protect his family from the new disease.
With his family and home prepared for an extended period of seclusion, Alex has few real concerns about the growing pandemic. But as the deadliest pandemic in human history ravages northern New England, and starts to unravel the fabric of their Maine neighborhood, he starts to realize that the flu itself is the least of his problems. A mounting scarcity of food and critical supplies turns most of the neighbors against him, and Alex is forced to confront their unexpected hostility before it goes too far. Just when he thinks it can’t get any worse, the very face of human evil arrives on Durham Rd. and threatens to destroy them all. Alex and his few remaining friends band together to protect the neighborhood from a threat far deadlier than the flu, as they edge closer to the inevitable confrontation that will test the limits of their humanity.
My Thoughts: Alex is an engaging narrator, both flawed enough to remain interesting and decent enough that I kept rooting for him and his family even as he did some admittedly questionable things. War veterans as action leads are pretty common at this point, as are doctors, but a pharmaceutical rep was a new one on me. Konkoly also injects some originality into the society-destroying virus genre by not killing all or even a majority of the human species. Unlike King's 1-in-500 immunity rate in The Stand, only about 20% of people wind up succumbing to the super-strain of flu. 20%, however, with the other 80% shrinking away from their neighbors and any sense of ethics larger than the familial in fear and a Northeastern winter racing up is more than enough to bring all of civilization grinding to a halt. Konkoly works the claustrophobia created by a suburban neighborhood still rendered impassable by snow and ice, paranoia, and a complete absence of civil services to great effect; the danger is palpable even before human malice shows up in the form of the Mansons. They're called that because we never get their true names, and in fact they only show up at all in the last third to quarter of the book. Sparsely-drawn, they're also not the real villains of the story, as both Our Heroes in the form of the Fletcher family and the neighborhood at large have been growing steadily more savage towards each other for weeks before the sociopaths popped up to say howdy. By the end of the book, Alex's primary ally is a right-wing gun nut that he would have crossed the street in order to avoid four months prior.
What could have been improved: needed another go with a copyeditor, as there was a tendency to switch from past to present tense and then back again midway through a sentence that cropped up just often enough to set my teeth on edge. I also would have liked Alex's PTSD and the hardening of soul that it brought about in him as winter wore on to be drawn out a little more clearly as something that wasn't necessarily admirable; while the book ends on an ambiguous note and everything that was done was done in the name of survival and with little other choice, the Fletchers are a creepy bunch of folks by the time that it's all said and done. If I'm going to do stars, hearts, etc., I still enjoyed the hell out of it and would give it four out of five overall.