Those cured of a devastating infection struggle to survive in a world that doesn’t consider them human in Stueve’s harrowing dystopian thriller.
Profine Pharmaceuticals may have saved humankind with Tetdat, the cure for a widespread infection that turned people into mindless beings who craved live meat. Billy Dodge is one of the cured, known as formers, who are housed in various Profine compounds to protect them from the masses of uninfected who still see them as diseased monsters. There are disastrous consequences when, one night, Billy storms out of a group-therapy session and leaves the facility. He and fellow former Nancy Shellborne have a confrontation with an uninfected that results in the man’s death. Enraged humans outside the compound cause pandemonium. This disturbing tale presents a bleak future in which individuals are still swayed by the media and mob mentality. It’s clear, for starters, that the infected are not monsters: the protagonist is a former, and Stueve (The ABCs of Dinkology: Time In-Between, 2014, etc.) rigorously avoids the Z-word. Billy, in his first-person narrative, persistently reminds himself that he’s alive. The pale-skinned man may be perpetually cold, but emotions like anger and fear, he believes, verify that he’s human. The media, meanwhile, discuss formers as separate entities from humans, implying that the name refers to a former state of humanity. “Oh society, will you ever change?” Billy laments, as reporters spin stories sympathizing with the dead man—though readers know he’d relentlessly beat Billy before a brick-wielding Nancy intervened. Stueve stays mostly in the present but maintains a riveting story by dropping hints of the 10-year Infection War (nuclear bombs in New York and London) and Billy’s pre-infection life (his newlywed wife and beloved dog are both dead). There’s violence, of course, but the author steers clear of visceral imagery, opting for darkly vivid prose, including the bloodshot-eyed formers crying “bloody tears.” Despite its focus on Billy, the novel, which clocks in at around 300 pages, has the emotional range and depth of a much longer epic tale.
Extraordinary and with a foreboding atmosphere that’s grim but never dreary.