I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Genius Plague by David Walton
Published by Pyr Books on October 3 2017
Genres: Adult, Science fiction, Eco-thriller
Buy on Amazon
The nitty-gritty: Hugely entertaining, this terrifying vision of what our future could be like will keep you turning pages long after bedtime.
I loved David Walton’s Supersymmetry, a fast-paced scientific thriller about time travel and alternate realities, so I knew that The Genius Plague was going to be a must-read. And wow, did I have fun with this book! When I started reading, I thought the entire story was going to revolve around the genius plague of the title, a fungus that infiltrates humans and makes their hosts smarter. But Walton surprised me with a multi-layered story that kept me entertained from start to finish. The author tackles a myriad of subjects such as computer hacking, code breaking, terrorism, government cover-ups, mycology and even Alzheimer’s, all of which are brilliantly woven into a cohesive story. He’s also written a cautionary tale about taking care of our planet, or else. This is a fast-paced, exciting read, but it will definitely make you hesitate and think about how we treat our natural resources.
The story opens as mycologist Paul Johns has just emerged from the Amazon rain forest after successfully foraging for fungi samples. On a tourist boat that will take him back to his hotel for the evening, his world is shattered when a group of men in military uniform stops the boat and ruthlessly shoots every person on board. Paul barely escapes the massacre by jumping over the side and swimming for safety, but his troubles are far from over.
Meanwhile back home, Paul’s younger brother Neil has just been offered a job with the National Security Agency, where he hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps, analyzing and cracking coded messages from around the world. When he deciphers a code that leads his team to believe that several rival guerilla factions in South America are in contact with each other, some odd connections between the messages and Paul’s near death experience in Brazil begin to emerge.
Paul is safely back in the states after his harrowing experience, but it turns out he contracted a dangerous fungal infection during his time in Brazil. He laughs it off as part of the life of a mycologist, but Neil isn’t convinced. Little by little, Paul starts exhibiting signs of increased intelligence, like beating Neil at Scrabble and chess (which is highly unusual). Even more worrisome, Paul’s memory has become nearly perfect. He can suddenly recall everything he’s heard or seen, and he’s even able to calculate complex math problems in his head. And that’s not all. As Paul begins to act stranger and stranger, the political unrest in South America starts escalating, and it’s not long before it looks like the U.S. might be drawn into a war. Are these events connected? It’s up to Neil and his team at the NSA to find out—and quick—before all hell breaks loose.
I’ve read a fair number of novels in the past few years that deal with fungi and mushrooms, and all the horrible things they can do. The Genius Plague is unique in that the fungi not only enhance the intelligence of their hosts, but they are able to influence their behavior as well. You can imagine what a dangerous idea this is, especially when Walton reveals what it is that the fungus wants (Yes, wants. It wants something. Just think about that for a moment). The fungus of the story—paracoccidioidomycosis—is a real thing, just one of many carefully researched details that make the idea of a mind-controlling fungus unbelievably scary.
But you can’t have a great story without great characters, and there were so many in this book. Because most of the story is told in first person from Neil’s point of view, he basically serves as the main character. And I completely enjoyed hanging out in his head! Neil had some of the funniest scenes in the book. He’s not big on authority, and even though he’s just been hired to work in a super-secret government agency, he tends to break a lot of rules and get in a lot of trouble. Luckily, his brashness is tempered by his boss, a fantastic woman named Melody Muniz. Melody is an older woman and has been working for the NSA for years, and she’s able to get Neil out of trouble more than once. Even better, Melody actually likes Neil for his intelligence and his creative way of solving problems. It was so refreshing to read a story about a smart, older female character and her growing friendship with a smart, younger male.
And I can’t talk about characters without mentioning Paul’s and Neil’s father Charles, who has Alzheimer’s. I have to admit the second I found out there was a character with the disease, I knew exactly what was going to happen to him (and I was right). But obvious plot points aside, the relationship between Charles, Neil and Paul was the emotional core of the story. Neil’s heartbreaking observations of his dad playing Scrabble with him (and losing) showed not only how horrible Alzheimer’s is, but how much Neil loves his father. Charles has quite the interesting character arc in the story, which eventually leads to even more heartbreak, but this wouldn’t have been the same story without him.
The final quarter of the book is both exciting and terrifying, and I honestly could not figure out how the characters were going to get out of the pickle they were in. The author even introduces a new threat near the end of the book (as if there weren’t enough already!), which pushed the story into that “over-the-top” territory that David Walton is known for. I wasn’t sure my heart could take all the tension, and just like a thrill ride at an amusement park, the experience was exhilarating, but I did breathe a sigh of relief when events finally sorted themselves out.
One thing’s for sure: The Genius Plague will not only entertain, but it will make you think. Walton gives us several plausible scientific scenarios that are certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Highly recommended.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Stop by next Tuesday, because I’ll be interviewing author David Walton! AND there might just be a giveaway of The Genius Plague as well;-)