I’ve been doing a lot of driving lately which means I actually caught up on all of my podcast episodes (gasp!) so when I got to my usual binge-time (while working on the Horror Haikuesday artwork) I wandered over to podiobooks to explore more of their horror section. And found myself clicking through the Scott Sigler collection. I recently listened to Ancestor by him so I wanted to go back to his 1st book and join in at the beginning. Andas much as he made my skin crawl, I’m so glad it did it. Here’s why:
Written by Scott Sigler
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction, Body Horror
Published: initially released in 2006 in podcast format with a print release in 2008 by Crown Publishing
One Sentence Synopsis: A disease is ripping it’s way through Michigan causing people to go completely nuts and go on murder sprees.
Longer Book Description:
Across America a mysterious disease is turning ordinary people into raving, paranoid murderers who inflict brutal horrors on strangers, themselves, and even their own families.
Working under the government’s shroud of secrecy, CIA operative Dew Phillips crisscrosses the country trying in vain to capture a live victim. With only decomposing corpses for clues, CDC epidemiologist Margaret Montoya races to analyze the science behind this deadly contagion. She discovers that these killers all have one thing in common – they’ve been contaminated by a bioengineered parasite, shaped by a complexity far beyond the limits of known science.
Meanwhile Perry Dawsey – a hulking former football star now resigned to life as a cubicle-bound desk jockey – awakens one morning to find several mysterious welts growing on his body. Soon Perry finds himself acting and thinking strangely, hearing voices . . . he is infected.
The fate of the human race may well depend on the bloody war Perry must wage with his own body, because the parasites want something from him, something that goes beyond mere murder.
This story digs into the body horror genre with sharpened nails and doesn’t let up until the very bloody end. It’s a violent, gore smeared read that is not for the faint of heart. Also, if you’re listening to it on audio, do use headphones. Besides the gore, there’s also a ton of cursing. Not absurd amount- but they do pop up often. I don’t feel like it’s too much though, because if I were in the main character’s position, I’d be using every curse word I knew along with a few new additions just to top it off. Seriously. That dude earns the right to curse like a sailor during this story.
But I feel like I’m getting ahead of myself.
This book in not perfect. But it’s imperfections mostly come down to the lack of development in the characters outside of Perry, the story’s main focus. That’s not to say that they weren’t interesting characters. Between the special agent in the field torn up by the a tragic event in the opening chapters, to the flirting duo of scientists working to understand the contagion, there’s definitely some interesting moments with the characters . But they did fall a little flat. I would have liked to see a little more growth and personal struggle happening in those characters. But that’s really my one nick-pick, because Perry really carries this story.
The Star Player
Perry is an ex-college football star turned office monkey. He has a murky past and one hell of a temper because of it. His journey is a fascinating one. You start off with a broken young man, who’s kind of just surviving the monotony of day to day life, when he starts noticing something weird going on in his skin. But- being a stubborn fellow- he avoids going to the doctor and even buying cream to treat it for a long while. So it goes from bad to desperate in a hurry.
Bull-headedness aside, he’s far from complacent with how the infection grows. He fights back with all his might as this infection makes itself at home in his body. His fight isn’t just with the infection though, it’s with himself and with the man his father tried to make him be through years of abuse.
Seeing him struggle to survive his present danger while slipping in and out of the past that created him made for an incredibly compelling story.
But… I actually didn’t like Perry at the beginning of the book.
He was your stereotypical meat-head jock and the way he viewed the world kind of pissed me off. And yet, somewhere during his fight for survival, he won me over. I was cheering for him, sometimes even calling out, “come on!” while listening to the story. It takes a pretty powerful journey for a character to win you over like that, especially when they’re not necessarily changing for the better.
A Contagion Story without Zombies?!
Yes, It does exist! A story of an infectious contagion that makes people go murderously mental without having zombies! That was part of what made this book such a refreshing experience.
Why bring up zombies?
When I researching for this review I actually found a few reviews where people were furious that there weren’t zombies in this book. What make you think there were going to be zombies? There are no mentions of the undead anywhere near this book… I just wanted to mention that.
Without using the zombie tropes to spread the infection, I thought what was invented felt pretty scientifically sound. (Please keep in mind that my feelings on science aren’t really based on fact. I worked really hard for my C’s in my science classes so I’m not really the one to go asking about the periodic table and what not…) So… yeah, the science of this world felt legit. For what that’s worth. 😉
I also enjoyed the post-mortem investigations that the scientists did, and how close, yet misleading their hypothesis were about the infections. It added an interesting dynamic to learn more about the infection through the scientists and then to experience it in the next chapter through Perry.
4 out of 5 blood spattered stars. If you like blood, violence, and conspiracy theories, you should pop on your tin hat and enjoy this book. Because it’s definitely worth listening to.
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Connect with the Author
What’s your favorite body horror story? (any medium of storytelling welcome.)