THE BRIDGEA novel by Janine Ellen Young
(2000, Aspect Science Fiction)
After an alien virus kills most of the human population, the inhabitants of Earth strive to use the information to build a bridge across the stars.
-- First reading (paperback)
Quite solid, with interesting characters and situations, but it also felt quite detached, as many years separated different parts of the story.
This was a book about characters, and about humanity, and how it deals with a threat like global annihilation. But in this case, all of humanity found itself in the same situation, where petty differences like race, religion and wealth didn't matter. The whole planet was infected.
The central idea behind the book is that an alien culture, who communicates by sending viruses out among its members, wants to know if its alone in the universe. Where we would send out probes with visual and auditory stimuli, punctuated with radio to let the aliens know what we wanted to say, they use colors and viruses. To the aliens, viruses are a necessary part of life. They don't know any other kind of life, so that's what they base their probe on. The probe carries a virus telling the "aliens" that it meets how to build a bridge to the stars. The aliens have built their half, but they need an exit for it to work. Thus the message.
How could the aliens know that viruses are dangerous to humans, and that the human immune system was designed to reject all viruses, at all costs. So when the probe reaches Earth, the virus is ejected and enters the human system, nearly three quarters of the human population is killed by it or by diseases caused by the breakdown in sanitation and worldwide relief.
Out of those who survive, 10% were never infected, and a handful were born from the womb of infected mothers (and usually had no parents). The rest lived out their lives wishing they were aliens themselves. They didn't understand it, but while they were infected, they tried to assimilate what it was like to be a Kasarian (the human name for these aliens), behaved like Kasarians (as much as humans could), and, most of all, tried to build the stargate. And then there was Piper. Piper was the only child (perhaps in the world) to survive when she was only a few months in her mother's womb. All others miscarried. As she aged, she began to show signs of being very much like a Kasarian, with five brains (four of them very small), and a toxic body chemistry.
Piper was raised by Judas, who inherited a large fortune from Piper's dead parents. He formed a company to figure out how to design and build the stargate. Varouna was born in India, and through twists of fate, discovered a vaccine to the virus that allowed women to become pregnant and bring the babies to term again. She was brought to New York to help Judas figure out what Piper was.
Gordon lived all his life in Toronto, but went to New York after his wife died in childbirth with the virus. He and Scotty became big players in the aftermath of the virus, at least in New York, even though they were never infected.
A few things bothered me about this book. First and foremost was all the swearing. I don't take offense to swearing, but it seemed to be included here only to affect the reader, maybe make readers more interested because there was foul language. I don't know. But there was a lot of it. Maybe that's how New Yorkers always talk? I also found the two births that we are witness to way too easy. The babies (first child for both mothers) seemed to crawl out on their own.
Most of all, however, was the disjointedness between all the different sections. We have to witness the years go by, of course, and we see the relationships develop over the years, but sometimes it takes a while to shift into the new frame.
But there were so many things that I liked about this book. The situations that we saw accelerated as the book went on. The opening sections were not very interesting, but I can see why they were included. When the virus is unleashed, I liked the way it was all reported. Every time we entered a situation, the author did a terrific job of filling us in on how humanity had changed, of answering all of our questions, either by flashbacks, or by a throwaway line somewhere. Most of the time, it showed how the next generation was just the same as the last. The Pans, as those gifted/ cursed with the visions from the Pandemic virus were called, lasted just one generation, and it looked for a little while like their vision might die with them.
Gordon becomes chief of the police force, while Jude forms his company. Being from different sides of the pandemic, they instantly hate each other. But through circumstances, they are forced to become friends, grudgingly at first, but closer and closer as the years pass and they begin to understand each other.
Gordon's son and Jude's foster daughter are meant for each other, as I knew from the moment they were born. But Piper knows she's different, and Scotty is never comfortable around her. But they love to flirt and throw insults at each other, even though they don't know that this is what they are doing. But the author writes it in such a way that the readers know, because even though they consciously hate each other, they also wonder why they get perverse pleasure of doing this, and why they think about each other so often.
Unfortunately for the Pans, the stargate has taken an entire generation to build. The next generation, currently coming into their own, doesn't see what all the fuss is all about, and would rather spend the resources on other things, more important. Just minutes before the stargate is completed, Jude is stabbed, and never quite makes a full recovery. Just seconds before the first probe is to go through the gate, the Stargate Committee closes it down, indefinitely. People are not ready for contact with an alien species, they say.
Piper, however, knows that she has to go through. Her first sexual experience ended really badly, with the death of the man who had touched her, awakening one of her secondary brains. As she grew, her brains always kept her safe, even creating snakes to destroy an ulcer she was developing. She barely ever touched anybody, for fear of hurting them. But she and her father know they have to defy the committee and let her go through the gate, because she has the ability to communicate with the Kasarians. She was born for the job. And Scotty fills in one last gap. He finally discovers that he wants her, so badly, and that she wants him, too. They both need to make love, and, after the fact, she discovers that she can control this force inside her. She can make sure that her antibodies do not harm the ones she loves.
Unfortunately, I found the end to be rushed, especially the sex scene. It was a "night before you leave and may never come back" thing, but it felt rushed and incomplete, nevertheless.
The very end, however, was a very nice touch. Piper wants to go through the gate to avenge all her dead friends and parents. But after she gets some deathbed advice from Varouna, and after her lovemaking with Scotty, she decides to create a message telling the Kasarians exactly what happened, instead of infecting them with her version of a deadly virus. And so contact begins.
I had a lot of trouble buying into Piper's genetic differences, until the end. The author obviously believed people might think this way, because she gave us a plausible explanation, through Varouna's letter. Kasarians could modify their fetuses, so it was possible that Piper's mother gained that knowledge from her part of the virus. It leaves me with a slightly better feeling to see this.
The other strange reference is the constant one of dying people telling their friends to look for them at the other side of the gate, and if they could find a way to come back from the dead, they would. I don't know where this was going, because it never seemed to lead anywhere. Maybe the people believed their souls would journey across the bridge first. I don't know.
Although the end was a little rushed, it was still a great way to end the book. And though the beginning was slow, it was still a decent way to start the book. Laying the base blocks for the Brooklyn Bridge was a nice analogy to the stargate bridge -you have to get to the other side before you can build the second half of it. But I wonder how long the Kasarians were waiting. After all, it must have taken thousands of years for their probe to reach Earth. But the concept was really neat, and the author did a great job of talking about the human condition, and how the world would react to a message such as this, since they couldn't separate themselves from it. I don't know any other way this book could have progressed and kept it so intense where it was needed most.
I cared about the characters, and I cared about what happened to them. I became aggravated when they started to do something stupid, and was elated when things went their way. I actually cared about how the world changed, and became united in this one cause that they couldn't not care about. And that is the mark of a very good story.
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