Pearson (The Marinated Nottingham and Other Abuses of the Language, 2016) offers a sci-fi thriller about a virus that threatens humanity.
Stacy Romani spent a good deal of her youth at her family’s chemical factory. It was there that she displayed a keen ability for scientific research. She grew up in a tightknit Roma family, and their wealth and distrust of outsiders allowed Stacy to pursue a career in science without any distractions. She would one day become an “elite of biochemistry,” although she could hardly anticipate some of the challenges that she would eventually face. One of her fellow elites is a man named Aatos Pires, who, much like Stacy, stood out as a child due to his advanced intelligence and, also like Stacy, doesn’t always have the best social skills. The two had once met years ago, as children; when they meet again as adults, it’s during a time in which a powerful virus is spreading through the population. As a woman working at the Centers for Disease Control describes it, the virus “doesn’t inhibit the immune system. It eats it.” To make matters more troubling, the virus was concocted by Aatos’ colleague in order to forward the goal of the “peaceful extirpation of the human species.” It turns out that there are lots of people around who want to put an end to all human life. And although the reader knows that Aatos is not to blame, the authorities still find him suspicious.
Although the premise sounds simple enough, the narrative takes a while to get to the heart of the matter. Stacy’s and Aatos’ backstories are lengthy and not quite as thrilling as an illness that could annihilate everyone on the planet. Although it’s revealed that Stacy once discovered a virus as a youngster, thanks to an electron microscope, a fierce commitment to the scientific method, and a can-do attitude, both she and Aatos play better as dedicated adults than they do as precocious children. Other characters include journalist Joshua Grimm, who has his share of insights, such as his disdain for broadcasters who seek comments from people on the street (“Who seriously thought random civilians had anything meaningful to contribute?”), but his mission to report only slows the progress of more pressing narrative material. Although this virus-threatening-civilization story loses focus at times, it’s imaginative and full of action at its best. The story is at its most endearing when it explores hard science, as when Stacy and Aatos investigate “the viral RNA and its protector protein.” These portions give the reader a glance at how real investigators might tackle such a thorny problem—even if they didn’t already have a track record of tackling such difficulties from a young age. Pearson also makes sure to throw in plenty of flying bullets along the way, and he’s continually shifting the quirky plot into places that are both surprising and fantastical.
Despite a slow start, this tale eventually succeeds with its scientific intrigue and decisively high stakes.