Imagine, if you will, a world. A world filled with people who have been cured of a virus that turned them into a zombie. A world where the Immune (who never suffered the disease) are living alongside the Cured (who were zombies not all that long ago). Imagine a world where a greater disease may be lurking hidden.. Imagine, in short the world of Deidre Gould's After the Cure. It is a well conceived world which contains enough plausibility that it actually seems possible. It's a world that I'll never forget. It's also a world that gives me nightmares.
I love post-apocalyptic fiction. I always have. Usually though, there's enough distance between the real world and what I'm reading that it doesn't really soak in past my defenses. I read it, enjoy it and then move on. This one got into my mind and soul hardcore. The premise is that a virus was released accidentally by a scientist who broke protocol and spread before it could be detected. Everything in the ATC universe springs from that one action. What made this one scary to me is that it seems way too possible.
I recently reviewed The Wasteland Chronicles Omnibus by Kyle West. I love it. The difference here though is in real world possibility. The Wasteland Chronicles twisted the Sweet Meteor of Death with an alien invasion. I was well able to suspend disbelief while I was reading the books but once I put it down it didn't really haunt me. After the Cure isn't like that. I'm not against genetic engineering at all. Every fruit known to humanity, including so-called "organic" fruit, has had it's genetics altered through selective breeding for at least centuries if not millennia. The fact remains that protocols exist for a reason and it's way too easy to believe that a scientist would break them because they were overzealous. It hits really close to home.
Gould's characters come to life as well. Our heroine is Nella Rider, an Immune psychiatrist who has been hired to interview two of the scientists who were on the team that invented the virus that destroyed the world. She ends up being a lot more intrepid and resourceful than I would expect out of a big city doctor stuck in a fallen world but that's a good thing. She would not have made it otherwise. I teach my daughters to be strong, proud, tough, smart and brave. Nella is the type of woman I have in mind when I teach the girls that. She is someone I admire and what I want my daughters to be. If there is a higher compliment, I don't know what it is.
Her partner throughout the book is Frank, the defense lawyer. He is a member of the Cured. The book goes through some of the things he experienced while infected (which I won't spoil) and it's not pretty. He is still capable of great acts of intelligence and bravery but his memories are just plain disgusting. What amazes me about this character is how well Gould manages to keep us sympathetic to him while still revealing some of the revolting things that he has done. It helps that he contracted the disease by trying to be a nice guy but I'll be reading this one and trying to extract some techniques for my own writing. Gould really impressed me with this character.
The rest of the cast is impressive as well, both as zombies and just normal people. Something a lot of post apocalyptic fiction forgets is that a lot of the world after an apocalypse would still be just trying to get along. I loved, Mad Max but even in that type of a setting not everyone would be a bad ass. Gould remembers that. There are certainly brave good guys clearing out/ curing the infected and bad guy looters who would probably be good with a gun, but there are also neighborhoods full of people who just want to make a living in their new reality. I like that. I love heroic fiction but it's good to remember that not everyone is a super hero.
Gould also makes the Cured react with revulsion to what they've done. She mentions repeatedly a high suicide rate among those who have survived because of their memories. This is horrifying but it's true to life. Anyone who had been through what these people have gone through would have been damaged by it and they have. It just makes sense. It also adds to the believability of the story. I get the feeling she may have studied some psychology while writing this or before. It shows. She has thought through the consequences of her world and it works.
Speaking of the consequences of the world, Gould does a really good job in other areas as well. There is a clear divide between the some of the Cured and some of the Immune based on attitude. A lot of Immune can't forgive the Cured for what they've done while they were out of their minds and sick. A lot of the Cured can't forgive the Immune for killing infected individuals to protect themselves when the infected could have been cured. There are the predictable shortages that would occur in a fallen world. Perhaps most importantly for the book, all of the above happen to the main characters. This is a way a Chosen One (actually, probably Chosen Two) story, but that status doesn't prevent them from dealing with the same problems everyone else has to.
Somehow I've managed to avoid the fact that this is really a mystery novel with a SF background. That's what makes it great. I don't want to reveal too much and spoil the story. I will say that solving the mystery is not just a personal goal. It has ramifications for literally the entire world. So what we've got here is a cross between SF (zombies) a mystery (the whole plot) and my favorite thing about epic fantasy (literal world ending consequences). It's no wonder I enjoyed it.
Of course, After the Cure suffers from the same problem just about every other novel of this type does. Her virus affects the brain and produces a zombie like brain disability. I guess maybe it's just the nerd in me, but I'd like to see something about how it happens in the book and I don't. There is a characters whose brain is eaten by the virus but that doesn't make much sense either. I could be wrong here, and if so I apologize, but I don't think viruses act like that. If someone's body parts are eaten by a microscopic organism it's generally bacteria and not a virus, but then I don't claim to be a biologist or a doctor so I could be wrong here. Then again, even if I'm right the problem is well within the author's rights to adapt reality to the necessity of story. It's a lot less egregious than what Hollywood commonly does with history on a regular basis. These are all minor gripes though and I intend to hie me off to Barnes and Noble to purchase the rest of the series on payday. The first one was that good.
Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Missing Bacteria Cultures
After the Cure can be purchased at the link below: