||This book started out with a really
neat premise, but I became bored before the halfway mark -not a good
sign. It got better when the end of the world was approaching, and
became really contrived near the end, so that I started disliking it at
This author's writing
style left a lot to be desired, at least from a dramatic point of view.
He wrote well, but used way too much sensationalism. I hate it, for
example, when any author tries to horrify us by saying "by the time he
crossed the bridge, it was too late for the rest of the island", or even
worse, "by New Year's, he would be dead." The author seems to be
reaching for headlines, when I wish he would simply stick to the story.
Along the same lines, the author
diverges from the actual story for pages at a time, telling us of his
pet theories, and about actual research that has been done. All of it is
peripheral to the story, and while interesting, really halts the events
that are happening. The worst offender was the manual for the nuclear
silo. Why did we have to see all those pages in capital letters? There
must have been a better way to show us Scanner's official procedures.
The main premise of the book is that
nature is doing strange, deadly things. Outbreaks of mites (yes,
ordinary mites) killing people, bees and all other insects dying off,
fungus outbreaks because of that, mad-cow disease running rampant, with
insect-eating bats also dying out and vampire bats switching to humans
as food. Essentially, as the theory goes, if we take away all the
insects, what kind of domino effect will be produced? Parts of this book
show us one scenario. I just wish the author would have stuck with that.
Instead, we get a bunch of characters
who are each pulled from one of several vats of standard traits. All of
the scientists sound the same- they are all brilliant, can all complete
each others' thoughts, even when they start out bitter with each other.
By the end, all but two have died!
I can understand trying to avoid the
typical cliché of having all of the main characters survive to the end
of the book. However, having every single one except for two of them die
is a little too much in the other direction. I would have loved to hear
from the experts on what was happening for longer.
That's where the problem with this book
manifests itself. Once the scientists agree on two or three plausible
theories and decide to do something about it, we can start killing them
off, because nothing interesting happens in their area after that.
Citing the 33 million year extinction cycle form the past, they theorize
that preceding every rain of comets which wiped out species such as
dinosaurs, cames a mass insect die-off, which made those creatures so
weak that they couldn't survive the catastrophe that came later.
They call this a genetic time-bomb, and
although we never find out if they are right, it is consistent within
the book, as the last chapter tells us that a bombardment is on its way.
I loved the way the scientists began spewing, accepting, modifying and
rejecting all of the theories that they came up with. Unfortunately, the
same chapter, the same scene as that theorizing, nearly brought the book
to a standstill, because it was so technical, and was real
Many of the scientists are killed when
the public takes revenge on a perceived botched experiment. The American
catalyst for this outrage is sparked from Jerry Sigmund, who encompasses
charisma and charm for his own benefit. He also has a personal grudge
against Richard Sinclair, the chief scientist. Although we spend some
time with him, and after he is arrested, his overly impressionable
guard Amy, I think the less said about them, the better. He could have
at least been written well, but it was not to be.
One prominent scientist is killed
taking a walk in a spacesuit among the "motes". While getting
claustrophobic in a spacesuit is realistic, I felt that the scene was
rushed, and was there simply to kill the character. It was a real waste.
Why create experts, especially ones who realize what is going on and
then kill them so early? It delays the resolution, of course, and forces
people who are not as intuitive or smart to come to the fore, but the
scene made it feel like a waste.
Another scientist and his wife are
killed by the vampire bats that they are studying. The author did not
charm me with his comparison of Bill and Janet's escapade to the bat
nest with a bad Hollywood movie. It really did seem like one, and his
acknowledging it didn't excuse it. It was stupid, and they knew it. That
again doesn't excuse it. They could have easily watched the bats exit
the church from inside their car, even to the swarm flying out. They
would have found their answers and stayed alive. Similarly, the scene
inside the lighthouse felt completely false. Why did the bats even stop
there? Two people inside a sealed enclosure would be a sizable obstacle,
which animals would have avoided, moving onto easier targets. Perhaps
have a few stay, attracted by the lights, but not the swarm. The author
has the bats bordering on intelligent, attempting to crack the glass
Events around the world -or at least
outside of the labs at Brookhaven- were a little more interesting,
though they didn't get the time that would have saved the book. It is
ironic that the book gets so much more interesting when the world is
about to end. I was so bored by the middle of the book. The author went
into so many technical rants that it was overwhelming. He is apparently
trying to make all of this science into a popular culture, parsing
theories together, but he brought back the sensationalist nature of his
writing, which had been missing since the beginning.
The destruction of the aircraft
carrier, while a little contrived, was well done, and quite exciting.
India and Pakistan had enough of a fight between themselves, that I find
it highly unlikely that they would sabotage such a large fleet like they
did, with a nuclear mine, of all things. It's a pity that all of the
characters had to die, because I think their story would have been more
interesting if they had survived the horrors. The chapter serves to show
how desperate the world can get, with desperation driving countries to
annex their neighbors, no matter the threat of retaliation, knowing that
anarchy is ruling the world at the moment, and that the United Nations
could do nothing about it, anyway.
One of my favorite chapters involved
the very human dialog between Bishop the scientist, and the Rabbi, more
soon-to-be-killed characters. It was truly a calm moment, and telling
that no matter where they went, they would have been killed, if not in
Long Island by Jerry then in Washington by the nuclear bomb. Along the
same lines, I loved the way the two girls were turned over to the lab by
their father, knowing that they might survive even though his survival
was unlikely (they, of course, get to grow up on the space station
because of a fortuitous launch of a very special spacecraft).
The contrivances, which had really been
subtle for most of the book, come to the fore near the end, and almost
ruined the book completely for me. I really wonder if it was necessary
to have a psycho in a nuclear silo. I was really hoping that he wouldn't
trigger a nuclear war because of his delusions, but it went far worse
than that. With the world at an end, no President, no chain of command,
he decides to launch his missiles at Long Island. I seemed to be missing
a part of the puzzle, though. What target would the missiles choose if
they no longer had commands in "spoilsport" mode? Choose one at
random? That doesn't make sense.
I thought the author was going
to wipe out humanity. Bad enough that he had nearly every single
character die. But it seems that he had to try really hard to do it. To
destroy the best hope for humanity's survival, we needed Jerry to strike
at the lab just before a blizzard hit, just before dozens of nuclear
weapons land on the site. I'm just happy to see the end of Jerry.
Their blimp-like craft starts falling
apart, if the above wasn't enough, killing the rest of the scientists
and destroying their data. Two survive, along with Richard's daughter,
Tam. That was the only part of the end of the book that I felt was
reasonable, as the fungus took it apart from the inside.
I think the story would have been much
more interesting if Jerry had found the lab to be silent and abandoned,
and perhaps life started to spread from his regime, indicating that
driving out the scientists was the will of God, returning the insects to
that area. He could have become a warlord. And then get hammered by the
At the very least, I think the
scientists should have had an opposite number to Jerry. It's unlikely
that people would have listened for long, but at least the plan could
have been outlined, where the research was going. All Jerry could have
done was called them liars. I also thought that Bishop could have
outlined what Bookhaven was doing, and turned more of Amy's doubts
aside, perhaps having Jerry watch his back, and create a power struggle.
I was just as happy when Amy was killed as I was when she finally shot
Jerry, though for a police officer, she was a bad shot.
The end of the book seems to try and
give us hope and fear at the same time. Tam's butterflies twenty years
later, people still living in New York (though the World Trade Center
surviving a series of nuclear explosions is an eerie thought), spreading
insects over the world seems to indicate that the world might be coming
back alive, though with a totally different distribution of power.
However, we also learn that the comets are about to come crashing down.
Speaking of space, what was the purpose
of the Darwin II spacecraft at Saturn? I thought it might provide a nice
counterpoint to find life elsewhere while destroying it on Earth, or
introducing some different DNA, but it just fizzled into nothing,
The fact that the author doesn't offer
a true resolution to the question of where the insects went, or even if
the theory was correct, doesn't bother me; that's how science works, and
it's normally only after hundreds of years of study that we figure out
if we were right or wrong. If it is correct, though, I want to know what
happens when insects are removed from life on the space station -if the
plants are hand-pollinated, then there were never any insects to begin
with. If little insects are still in human bodies, shouldn't they
disappear, as well, and we would have an outbreak on the station? Either
way, we should see some kind of effect.
This book could have been better
dealing with the effects of rebuilding the world, I think. I would even
consider reading a sequel with Tam as the main character, if there was
one forthcoming. It is ironic that countries with fewer freedoms, like
where Tam now calls home, probably came out of the mess easier than the
US, since psychos like Jerry would not have been allowed to incite the
public to mob. Still, I would hope that a sequel has more character
development, and even better plot development. There were so many
characters who were in this book simply to show different ways of dying.
I wanted more. The plot was also very shallow, once introduced, and
didn't get much further than it had in the first few chapters. Sure,
cloning insects from millions of years ago was successfully attempted,
but it had been brought up fairly early in the crisis, so that all we
had left was to get it done. The fact that there is no real resolution
to the book is strange in that way, since we don't even know if Tam is
going into a trap or to find new friends.
Still, there were enough neat concepts
and nice character moments to make much of the book enjoyable. There was
a lot of data about life, biology, scientific studies, all of which were
only marginally related to the plot, but much of it held my attention,
simply by the fact that it was information on things I was totally
unaware of. If we could have stuck with the interesting characters and
concepts, made them deeper instead of perusing them all, I would have
been more impressed. In this case, I had more complaints than good