In a thriller with the gut-wrenching tension of a doomsday countdown clock, Richtel (The Doomsday Equation, 2015, etc.) goes high concept, viewing worldwide connectivity through cell-level immunology.
Observing our ever connected social media world, a crazy genius obsesses over the idea that “ubiquitous transmissions had the impact of putting people into kind of a catatonic state” and decides to press pause. After the rogue Google contractor recodes a good idea for nefarious purposes, the story begins when world-renowned infectious disease specialist Dr. Lyle Martin heads for a Colorado conference. Martin’s been lured to the site of the wacko’s beta test. From airport baggage handler on down, he discovers people comatose in midseizure. Puzzling enough, but he later comes awake home in San Francisco with the sketchiest of memories of the Colorado visit. Martin’s a well-drawn character, a driven, obsessed man so smart his marriage collapsed because of his passion for his work. Supporting characters include his fellow witnesses to the Colorado episode, the female airline captain and her gun-toting first officer. Martin’s ex-wife is another cast member done up in enviable style. The villain, not so much—standard Freudian twisted childhood warping into an Adam and Eve fantasy—all motivated by a god complex, because “people are gorging on ideas that reinforce their political and social views...losing their ability to empathize, cooperate, compromise.” Toss in a massive march on Washington by gun owners worried about the Second Amendment, and things threaten to wobble toward social chaos. The theme is as current as tomorrow’s news, but the pace sometimes outpaces clarity.
More science faction than science fiction, this is a novel requiring close reading to comprehend, and fear.