Years after fighting off a plague infection, survivors become the target of a dubious administrator who’s convinced they still carry the lethal virus in this dystopian novel.
Forty percent of humanity was killed by the virus Pan21, and an even higher percentage in the Republic, comprised of seceded Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, and New Mexico. Republic Voice reporter Helen Small lost her family and best friend to Pan21, which mercifully ended seven years ago. She was infected but endured; the survivors are marked by cosmetic side effects: ashen skin, hair, and eyes. Despite no signs of the plague, there seems to be an anti-survivors movement brewing. A group called the Grey Alliance forces two survivors out of their Texas town. Surprisingly, Administrator Chaste, in statements to the media, doesn’t condemn the Grey Alliance’s aggressive tactics. In fact, he’s supportive, later claiming Pan21 has resurfaced, transmitted by survivors locally and in other parts of the world. Helen, via an anonymous column, rebuts Chaste’s assertions, having found no confirmation of recent plague deaths. Unfortunately, the public sides with Chaste, and Helen’s subsequently arrested, primarily for being a survivor. Things could turn decidedly more precarious for her, however, if her captors learn she’s the column’s author. McDaniel’s (The Future Is Short, 2017, etc.) wise choice to set a global-plague tale in the smaller Republic condenses his epic narrative and generates a swift pace, while descriptions of characters and environment are generally subdued—akin to the “colorless” survivors. But the muted prose is befitting of Pan21’s devastation (Helen walks the shockingly empty hallways of a Dallas hospital) and makes flashes of color stand out: a morning of “blood-red sunlight” or a photo of Helen’s now-dead 5-year-old son in a blue-striped shirt. Chaste’s administration poses an unmistakable threat, monitoring citizens with flying quads and HealthPals (devices inserted in skin) and ultimately branding Helen a terrorist. A romance between Helen and her boyfriend, Francisco Stiles, meanwhile, is fleeting, though it’s rich material for the planned sequel.
This gripping sci-fi–esque yarn ably incorporates social and political themes.