Saturday, August 30, 2008

Book Review: Infected

Getting Under Your Skin - Scott Sigler's Infectious Horror Novel

Scott Sigler was annoyed when the publishing world refused to put him in print. So he took one of his 'books' and turned it into a podcast, then a free pdf file and several successful, freely distributed online 'books' later he now finds himself in print after all, thanks to Random House. It turns out that even when people can read a story online for free or listen to it, they are willing to pay for the more tangible version. Sigler fiddled around a little with his story 'Infection' which has been renamed 'Infected' in its paper form. It is a horror novel about an infection that causes bluish triangles under the skin in its victims and makes them go violent and paranoid. Where is this disease coming from? And is there a purpose to it?
The book is initially split three ways. It follows couple of researchers and Dew, a CIA operative, who are all trying to make sense of a series of murders/suicides. Then there is Perry, a fairly recent infectee, who slowly starts to go through some disturbing changes. And lastly there is a gleeful description of the internal progress of the infection, detailed enough to give the semblance of making scientific sense.
Normally this is the sort of story that I would prefer to see in a movie theatre: I don't often find much style or substance in the contemporary horror or action-thriller genre and Infected is a combination of both. Some parts of the book confirmed my bias. The chapters about the researchers are obviously just a way for the writer to bring across information and give an outside perspective on the infection, but the characters don't amount to much. They are given some defining personality traits, but these are ultimately irrelevant. Dew the CIA operative is given a bit more time and dimension, but with his bitter Vietnam veteran past, he skirts close to cliché. The meat of the story - literally - is in following the process of infection in Perry, an ex football player with daddy issues. Sigler takes sardonic pleasure in describing the biological details and doesn't hold back on the gore. I squirmed my way through a lot of parts that involved various forms of bodily fluids and mutilation. There is one part in particular near the end that will make the eyes of half the readership water. When Perry starts having an interior dialogue with the triangles under his skin, things start to feel like a Stephen King novel, which is good or bad depending on your opinion of Stephen King. For me, these were the most interesting parts of the book; a slow descent into madness.
There are some believability issues: I did not buy the fact that Perry doesn't go and get help for his condition earlier on, when his judgement is not impaired yet. And Perry seems to be going through his infection in a different way than other victims, but because we never follow another victim, the difference is unclear.
The ending is open, the possibility of a sequel looming. I am not sure I would read one if it came out, but to fans of gory medical horror I can recommend Infected for a slightly sickening weekend at the beach. Hypochondriacs: steer clear.

1 comment:

Scott Sigler said...

Looks like you enjoyed it to some extent, at least. Some good points in your review.

It was difficult to show madness as a gradual transition without saying somewhere along the line "he is going mad now, can you see?" Case in point, your question of why didn't Perry go to the hospital when he was still in the early stages. That's because the chemical imbalance has already set in, and the powerful paranoia is doing its dirty work.

And he does behave differently than some of the other victims. Most don't have the internal fortitude to fight their situation. He does, as did Martin Brewbaker, the gent who opened the novel with the hatchet (Perry, apparently, is a bit more intelligent and methodic than poor old Martin ...).

It did slip into medical thriller mode at times, though -- trying to show the hard science behind the infection is difficult. Sometimes I want to abandon this genre and write vampire novels, then you don't have to explain anything.

Thanks for taking a chance with INFECTED. The sequel will be out December 30 in the US, maybe the story will grow on you before then.