Infected by Scott Sigler

6/10 Blood proves thicker than character

Infected is a book with a somewhat unusual publishing history. It began (and indeed can still be found) on as a series of freely available audio podcast readings by Sigler himself. It has however since made the leap to being published print novel and to the surprise of many made it on to the New York Times best-seller list.

Since the third and final book in the Infected Trilogy came out recently, I decided to reread the first two entries in preparation. Infected was the book of Sigler's I most eagerly anticipated reading when I initially saw the synopses and it is likely the one that most sticks in my mind. However upon rereading the book I find myself slightly less than enchanted with Sigler's work. The good elements are still there, but some of the inequities which upon first reading were covered by the sheer shock value of his horror on second reading seemed a bit more serious, which is why I now find myself giving a less positive rating than I would've expected.

Infected is, without any prevarication, a horror novel. And there is absolutely no denying that it is in the horror elements that Sigler truly excels. The story involves an alien invasion which takes the form of microscopic machines that infect their hosts, and slowly grow, taking over the hosts body cell by cell, and turning the hosts' mind into a paranoid nightmare of violence. The story is told from two perspectives, that of Perry Dawsy, an ex American football player with an anger problem who finds himself suffering the ravages of the infection, and the CIA team lead by epidemiologist Margaret Montoya and military officer Dew Philips, following a trail of murders across America and desperately trying to piece together the course of the infection and the true purpose of the parasites from what is left behind.

Sigler writes with a quick abrupt style which actually reminded me far more of old time radio dramas than a novel. Chapters are extremely short and cover usually just one scene. Each chapter slowly mounts with tension, whether through the CIA finding or deducing new horrors or through cold but at the same time clinically chilling descriptions of the bio chemical progress of the  parasites. All these however pale in comparison to the true visceral horror of reading of the progress of Perry's own infection, since between the psychotic influence of the parasites, his own propensity for anger and violence and a desire to rid himself of the organisms growing inside him at any cost. Perry's battle with the parasites is without a doubt one of the single most gory stomach churning pieces of absolute blood drenched horror I've ever read. Sigler gives just enough detail of the actual feeling of disgust, the true horror of finding alien things growing inside your body and the different flavours of agony you might have to inflict on yourself to be rid of them, plus of course the ubiquitous gore to evoke a real skin deep sense of nauseating dread, particularly since as with a well plotted horror he foreshadows some of the worst stages of Perry's condition in other parts of the book, meaning that you get to experience all the nasty surprises first hand along with Perry. I also give Sigler credit for never descending into the realms of simply describing torture. Indeed while Perry does some pretty extreme things to his body it is always he who does them often through a misplaced sense of strength or wishing to be tough. Neither does Sigler fall into the trap many zombie writers do and simply believe describing blood alone is scary, indeed it is the very physical visceral nature of the descriptions of the infection that give the real sense of horror as much as the extra side order of Hollywood tomato ketchup.

Combine this with several descriptions of murders that have a bizarre sense of humour about them and an alien invasion which is characterized by everything we don't know, and the horror aspects couldn't be executed more perfectly.

The problem is, that really is where things stop. Even the most major characters in the book are fairly one note affairs whose motivations can be summed up in one short sentence. Dew Philips for example is an army veteran who is concerned over the death of his partner, Margaret Montoya seems to have nothing in her mind but her career, while more minor characters (most of whom just exist to be victims), simply seem cardboard cut-out stereotypes of American family life, cute pigtail wearing girl child, university student or family man, indeed some victims we don't even get this much detail of. In fairness other than Dawsy most victims simply exist to show another progression in the infection or exhibit some more psychotic tendencies brought on by the parasites, however once again it would've been nice if Sigler had another string to this particular bow.

The character who disappointed me most however upon rereading is Perry Dawsy. He begins the book as a man struggling with anger with the help of a sarcastic but faithful best friend. It then transpires much of his anger is due to an abusive father who frequently beat him and told him to be tough.  The problem however is that as he spirals into madness and starts extreme acts of self mutilation and paranoia in an effort to rid himself of the infection, Dawsy does not progress so much as he literally becomes his father, adopting his father's attitudes and even speech patterns to those around him. We are left therefore with a story which effectively has no hero, just a very hard working villain battling against an unknown threat. Indeed I do hope there is some degree of redemption for Dawsy offered in the rest of the series, though I am not holding out too much hope since it often seems that Sigler's characters are limited to absolute hard cases and stereotypes who become victims, and do not progress so much as survive the horror.

With its thin characters, fast chapters and abrupt though dramatic writing style, the infection itself is pretty much all there is to hold the reader's interest. This it does simply by the fascination of shear gory ouch factor, however once you get past that factor there really isn't much of a story left behind, everything is shock value and while the shock's couldn't be executed more perfectly they do ware a bit thin especially on rereading.

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