An amazing read. Probably the most terrifying non-fiction book I've ever encountered. Were some of the descriptions sensationalistic? Maybe, but frank...moreAn amazing read. Probably the most terrifying non-fiction book I've ever encountered. Were some of the descriptions sensationalistic? Maybe, but frankly speaking, the diseases that are (in part) the topic of this story are, by their very nature, sensational.
I thought Mr. Preston did an excellent job pacing his story, giving it some great symmetry, providing scientific details in an easy-to-understand (but not pandering) way. He tells a great story, and structures it so that it really crackles. There were many times where you had no idea whether this person or that person is going to live or die, and the tension is amazing.
At the end, the author inserts a bit of autobiography, during a trip to one of the key locations of the story. Although he doesn't really discover anything there per se, it was a nice way to end things. Unlike other non-fiction authors (I'm looking at you, Krakauer), this did not feel artificial and tacked on. Preston starts to pontificate about these viruses being punishment for mankind, but he wisely does not go too far down this road, and indeed settles on a more logical way to end things.
Apart from the authorship, parts of this story drive me crazy. There are so many times when people are exposed to a highly lethal agent, and instead of doing the right thing (notifying authorities and going into isolation), they keep their mouths shut.
Also, one would think that the Army, the CDC, and other responsible agencies who are the major players in this book, would know exactly how to handle the situation that unfolds. They don't. And the risks raised by this are hard to fathom.
I hope everyone has learned their lesson, but I doubt it.(less)
Let me preface this review by saying that I like, admire and respect Cory Doctorow, the author of this book. He is very intelligent and funny. He writ...moreLet me preface this review by saying that I like, admire and respect Cory Doctorow, the author of this book. He is very intelligent and funny. He writes one of my favorite blogs (Boing Boing). He gave a fantastic lecture to the Long Now Foundation. He's the face of the EFF. Generally, he's the geek's geek.
In fact, after hearing his Long Now talk, I decided I had better read him, and this was his first book and his most famous. So I read it.
The closest thing I can compare it to is Ecotopia, in that is is really just a collection of interesting ideas with some "characters" and "plots" slapped on. I cared nothing for the characters in this book, and rarely found myself understanding them. The plot (especially the MacGuffin) was hardly addressed at all. It was utterly un-engaging.
What was good about it? Well, it had a decent sense of humor. The protagonist's thoughts, especially when acting irrationally, were dead on. And of course, some of the ideas, while not entirely new, are interestingly layered into the story. But as entertainment, or even as a piece of literature, it is lacking. Flat characters, no sense of place (besides the actual, real life place of Walt Disney World), and no real conflict to move things make this a pretty inane read.
Because I respect him, I will be trying another of Cory's books. But I cannot recommend this one.(less)
This was a hard one to rate. From a craft perspective, it is quite admirable and enjoyable. It uses many interesting ways to convey the abstract thoug...moreThis was a hard one to rate. From a craft perspective, it is quite admirable and enjoyable. It uses many interesting ways to convey the abstract thoughts of its characters. It makes the scenery come alive, and more than that, imbues it with depth and texture, along with the ancillary characters.
The plot itself is less satisfying, no doubt a bit tarnished by the distance between the novel's writing and now. It is kin to the Beats (and On The Road), but while that story was propelled along by its enthusiastic characters, this one has dour protagonists that match the sandy landscape. They linger, they dither, and they are metaphysically lost. It is sometimes amazing, and sometimes infuriating.
The "third act" surprise in the plot was a welcome respite from normal story arcs, and what comes after I am still grappling with. Was it one of the most amazing character transformations? A descent into male-oriented fantasy? Something else?
It is a book that deserves its reputation as a classic, and it deserves to be experienced. Is it a fantastically gripping story? No. But its craft compensates for that.(less)