Dr. Phil D' Amato returns from The Silk Code, winner of the Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999, with another blend of biological science fiction and hard-boiled police-procedural mystery.
Memory itself is the suspect in The Consciousness Plague - more particularly, loss of memory, in slivers of time deducted from a growing number of individuals, which plays havoc with everything from the investigation of serial stranglings to candlelight dinners. D'Amato, NYPD forensic detective, investigates a spate of unusual cases and finds evidence of a bacteria-like organism that has lived in our brains since our origin as a species and may be responsible for our very consciousness.
A new antibiotic crosses the blood-brain barrier and inadvertently kills this essential bug. Phil himself falls victim to this memory hole, and must struggle to get the proper authorities to pay attention before everyone loses so much memory that they forget that they forgot in the first place.
Paul Levinson, PhD, is an author, professor, and media commentator. His first novel, The Silk Code, won the Locus Award for best first science fiction novel of 1999. Entertainment Weekly called his 2006 novel, The Plot to Save Socrates, “challenging fun”. Both novels were reissued as "author's cut" ebooks in 2012, and Unburning Alexandria, sequel to The Plot to Save Socrates, was published in 2013. Chronica - the third novel in the Sierra Waters time travel trilogy - followed in 2014. His 1995 award-nominated novelette, "The Chronology Protection Case," was made into a short film, now on Amazon Prime Video. His alternate history short story about The Beatles, "It's Real Life," was made into a radioplay, streaming free since March 2023. His nine nonfiction books on the history and future of media have been translated into a dozen languages around the world, and have been reviewed in The New York Times, Wired, and major newspapers and magazines. Two shorter books, McLuhan in an Age of Social Media and Fake News in Real Context, were published in 2015-2016, and are frequently updated. Levinson appears on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and numerous other television and radio shows and podcasts. His 1972 album, Twice Upon a Rhyme, has been reissued on CD and remastered vinyl and is available on Bandcamp and iTunes. His first new album since Twice Upon A Rhyme - Welcome Up: Songs of Space Time - was released by Old Bear Records on CD and digital, and Light in the Attic Records on vinyl, in 2020. Levinson is Professor of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC. https://www.tiktok.com/@paullevinson
Levinson blends 2 very different plotlines together here, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It is a particularly bad flu season, but there is a new drug out there that seems to be excellent at stopping the bug in its tracks, and even better, it is effective against meningitis too because it crosses the blood-brain barrier, which is notoriously difficult to do. In the midst of this, Phil D'Amato, a forensic detective with the NYPD, is called in to try to find clues related to the strangling of a young college student found in a park. When the officer who was the first to the scene is later questioned by D'Amato during his investigation, she suddenly has no memory of being there or processing the case. When both D'Amato, his girlfriend, and his boss get the flu and discover that entire days have been erased from their memories, they realize this could explain what happened to the officer, as D'Amato's questions had to wait until she returned from sick leave. This 'memory bug' strikes again when another young college student is attacked while out walking. Although she survives, when she is brought in to identify her attacker, whose description perfectly matches a woman the police found in the neighborhood with no solid alibi for the night of the attack, the victim instead picks one of the 'red herrings' in the lineup, and admits that she can no longer recall what her attacker looked like. Now, D'Amato has two very different cases to work on. His primary focus, according to his boss and city officials, should be to provide investigators with evidence that could lead to the capture of the strangler, who causes more understandable public outcry and fear with every victim. However, D'Amato feels convinced that the new miracle drug is causing the memory loss running rampant through his circle of contacts, and perhaps nationwide too, without people realizing it. Somehow, in order to prove his point, D'Amato ends up researching ancient cultures with the thought that written language came about because there are bacteria in the brain that stimulate our memories, these ancient cultures found something with antibiotic properties that also killed those bacteria, the people realized this was happening, and thus figured out that by developing a way to write thoughts down, those thoughts would not be lost when their brain bacteria were killed. I liked Levinson's way of tying it all together and eventually that the focus returned to the stranglings and medical side of the 'memory bug', but when D'Amato was learning about the Phoenecians, the Vikings, who discovered the Western world first, etc., etc. I found myself spacing out, remembering how little I cared about ancient history when I was in school and realizing that my opinions on the subject haven't changed over the years. D'Amato's role as a forensic investigator intrigues me, but I would have to see what area of expertise his investigation requires before I commit to reading another of Levinson's books in the series because if it's less science and more on the history side of things, it may not hold my interest.
I got this book from the library as a "playaway", an audio book that is pre-loaded onto an MP3-type device. It's a pretty nifty set up, especially for books that are perhaps a little too much for my children to hear, but that I can listen to while washing the dishes, folding the laundry, etc.
Okay, here's what I like about the book:
A good "murder mystery" fun read, one that gets you thinking and wondering "whodonit". It also gets you thinking about memory and its important role in all of our lives, from our basic relationships to each other (the main character proposes to his girlfriend, but a week later, she forgets all about it!) to work and society problems (a key witness for a murder forgets all the original details and can't remember her original testimony).
The main culprit is a new antibiotic that was engineered to cross the blood brain barrier. The FDA approved it because of it's promise to help solve many meningitis-type diseases and counted it as the next miracle drug. But the main character starts noticing from his own experience and others that short-term memory loss seems to be happening to everyone who takes the drug. As a forensic detective for the NYPD, he travels around the world, checking out different theories and meeting with different professionals about memory loss in past civilizations, meanwhile trying to solve a chain murder case.
My main reservation with this book is that it is written to a general US Adult audience, meaning life standards that aren't particularly LDS. For example, the main character is living with his girlfriend, but thankfully the author is very tasteful in the intimacy side of their relationship. It just bugs me that this is considered so normal in our society these days. And, to their credit, they decide to get married, however, it's not a wedding with family and friends around, just one of those "quickies" with a friend who is a justice of the peace sort of thing. I actually would worry about a marriage with such a shaky commitment foundation. Anyway, the other thing is with the serial murders, it's on women and evidence points to a lesbian type relationship that connects them. Again, the worldliness of our society, but it's not heavily done like the author is on a soapbox or anything, just included because that's part of our world these days. Unfortunately.
One thing that is nice is that I don't recall much in the way of crude language or anything. I can't stand too much of that.
Anyway, if you like murder mysteries like CSI, Monk, Agatha Christie, then this would be a fun book to read.
OK, I'm not a neurologist but neurology is an interest of mine. I'm not sure I buy into the basic premise of this story - that a special antibiotic could affect memory as described in The Consciousness Plague. But, if we just accept the idea as a possibility, then the rest of the book is terrific.
I've been reading a lot of "space operas" and werewolf books lately. The Consciousness Plague was a very pleasant departure from those stories. An honest to goodness detective story with the mandatory murder investigations and with a potentially earth shattering man made disaster in the near future if Phil D'Amato and his team can't get the word out to the right people.
This book has all the elements of hard science fiction, murder mystery, and a good detective novel all in one. The best part of it is that it is believable, realistic, and set in the present. As a biologist I really enjoyed this book because it is based on real science. I'm not saying everything in the book is true, but it is great science fiction, in the way Isaac Asimov used hard scientific theory to tell his stories. A great read for all occasions.
Good book, never read/listened to a mystery/sci-fi and was impressed. The book is predictable at times. Enough science in the book to make the reader understand the theory behind the subplot but not too much as to be above the readers head.
I would like to rate this book 3.5 stars, but GoodReads only allows whole star increments. This book isn't going to make my list of all time favorite books, but it was fun for light reading. It did take me a while to finish.
Imaginative bio-med premise and completely believable with good intrigue, where the reader can actually be a little ahead of the first-person protagonist, yet still doesn't have it solved. Writing is fluid and descriptive. Character development good. Recommended.
This had some promise, but ultimately it was tiresome. The characters were very 2-dimensional, the dialogue was repetitive and at times useless. The author describes all the meals the main character had - he loved meeting over meals. The plot twists were forced. The murderer was ... omg ... so effing complicated. The premise ultimately made no sense. The only reason I finished this was because the seat on my flight was too uncomfortable to fall asleep in.
I don't write negative reviews, but since I somehow managed to slog through this whole boring book I will just say why I didn't like it...riven with cliched statements by the main character, it was utterly incomprehensible...not only the science (can't believe some say it was believable) but by the triteness. The thing that really annoyed me was the fact that the two strands, as it were, of the mystery were connected only by pure chance, with no rhyme or reason...I kept reading to find out what the connection was, that there might be some vast conspiracy, expecting some hook that kept me reading to find out what the heck was happening, but no...and both strands just petered out into blandness...oh well. That's what I get for picking up random sci fi books at the library! And yes this was listed as sci fi, for utterly no reason...
This is the second Phil D'Amato mystery novel. It has all the virtues of the first one, and it's much better integrated--no weird diversions through other stories which happen to contain crucial information. In the wake of a flu epidemic, treated by a new antibiotic that is actually effective in shortening the length and lessening the severity of the disease, there's an epidemic of short-term amnesia. It moves from the level of annoying to the level of serious problem when it starts to interfere with the investigation of an apparent serial killer. D'Amato battles his own and others' unreliable memories, one or more killers, and city and federal bureacracy and politics in pursuit of the solution to both mysteries. Highly enjoyable.
I wanted to like this even more than I did. The premise--that something is causing random memory losses among the team investigating a series of murders in New York--was right up my alley and the speculations of the forensic psychologist on the team concerning the role of bacteria in consciousness were very interesting. There was too much running around and too many different people pulled into the plot to provide single pieces of information, and the author never could decide if he was most interested in the murder mystery or the psychological mystery and ended up giving somewhat short shrift to both. It's rare that I feel a book would be better at twice its length, but this is one of those cases.
From of the author of The Silk Code, winner of the 1999 Locus Award for Best First Novel, comes another intriguing blend of science fiction and hard-boiled police procedural mystery. In The Consciousness Plague, forensic detective Phil D'Amato returns to investigate a spate of unusual cases of memory loss and discovers evidence of an organism that's lived in our brains since the beginning of humanity—and may be responsible for our very consciousness in the first place. (cover blurb)