Filler content with infection

A review that originally appeared in Black Static #6 as part of a feature on writer Scott Sigler:-

BEACHHEAD: A SCOTT SIGLER FEATURETTE

Infected (Hodder paperback, 450pp, £6.99) opens with people dying of an unknown virus that first causes them to attack either themselves or others, with insane levels of violence, and then sees their bodies decomposing at an advanced rate. In government circles the fear is that a new terror weapon has been unleashed and there is a news embargo concerning the virus. The CIA has set up a covert task force, with scientist Margaret Montoya and agent Dew Philips doing the necessary to contain things. For Montoya the challenge is to find a victim before their bodies turn to biological soup so that she can experiment with a view to finding the cure, but the more Montoya learns the more convinced she is that the virus is of extra-terrestrial origin. Perry Dawsey, a former football star whose career was cut short by injury, discovers strange marks on his body and starts to feel ill. As the infection spreads, Dawsey fights it in his own way, even mutilating his own body to hold contagion at bay, but there seems to be an intelligence at work behind the virus and voices speak to him inside of his head, revealing a terrible purpose.

Sigler made his name by being the first person to podcast a novel, and in doing so he caught the attention of old fashioned print publishers, with Infected the first of his stories to appear in the UK as a mass market paperback. It’s a fast paced and engaging book, science fiction as much as horror, with a convincing amount of technical detail (though you’d need a biologist to tell you how accurate any of this is, which I’m not) and copious lashings of gore, the latter bringing to mind such genre staples as zombie movies and Cronenbergian body horror. There are also echoes of Dreamcatcher in both the central conceit of an alien invasion by means of a virus and in Dawsey’s interaction with that virus, which mimics Jonesy’s dialogue with Mr Grey in the King book, though Sigler brings his own unique touch to the management of this material and the plot developments that arise out of it.

Characterisation is key, with Montoya a scientist on the rise who realises that what she had seized on as a chance to move up the career ladder could well be the end of the human race, while Philips is a ‘hard man’ coming to terms with what he has done over the years and questioning his own raison d’etre. Overshadowing both of these though is Perry Dawsey, who owns the book. Dawsey is a jock now consigned to desk jockey status, and a man with serious anger management issues, courtesy of failures in his past and a tyrannical, bullying father who both repelled Perry and at the same time shaped his ideas of manhood. He is not the sort of person I could ever relate to or find sympathetic, but at the same time he is a thoroughly credible creation, and I can see how he got to be the way he is and how that is necessary for the role he has in this book, the cast iron determination to resist the alien invaders whatever the cost. Sigler also does something interesting with the interaction between Dawsey and the virus, placing the latter’s speech in a different type to the rest and leaving the reader room to interpret this as either genuine communication or merely a symptom of Dawsey’s mental state.

Infected is a compelling read and an exciting story well told, with hints in the text that suggest it won’t be the last we hear of either these characters or Scott Sigler.

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