Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Plague Zone"

Jeff Carlson's first novel, high concept thriller Plague Year, is now in its fourth edition. Plague War, its sequel, was released in North America in July 2008 and became a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award.

Carlson applied the Page 69 Test to Plague Zone, the third book in the trilogy, and reported the following:
If you were browsing through your book store and chanced upon page 69 of Plague Zone, you’d find yourself right smack in the middle of the apocalypse.

In a small village in the Rockies, nanotech researcher Ruth Goldman is locked inside her cabin after a new plague has ravaged her friends and townsmen. Outside is Cam Najarro, an ex-Army Ranger who almost became Ruth’s lover at one time. Page 69 opens as Cam and Ruth are arguing via radio headsets — but their argument is larger than the two of them. The other survivors scattered across the village are also listening.

Both of them are armed. All of the survivors are armed. They’ve been forced to kill several people, turning on each other, and now their best weapons are tension and mistrust.

Boom. Welcome to the nightmare:
it looked no different than the rest of their huts, except that this cabin had even fewer windows than most, just one in the small living room and another in Eric and Bobbi’s space. Ruth needed electricity at all hours, so they’d wired her room with more outlets than normal and left it with no openings to betray what was inside.

This hut was the secret heart of their village. Ruth actually slept in the front room, which lacked any privacy, but her bedroom was a clean lab partitioned with plastic sheeting. It was crude and inefficient -- and it worked. Eric had been her closest bodyguard, a role that once belonged to Cam. He hadn’t been inside for months. There was never a good excuse since they’d upgraded the electrical lines, and he’d promised himself to leave her alone for Allison’s sake. Even so, he remembered sharing a cool glass of tea with Ruth and Eric, sitting on the living room floor beside the other man but acutely aware of Ruth’s narrow bedroll and the open-faced cupboard she used to store her clothes, her toothbrush, a lipstick, a book. The tidy space had been full of the little personal things he never saw anymore.

“Is there anyone with you?” she asked.

Cam glanced over his shoulder, suddenly uncomfortable with where she was going. “It’s just me,” he said.

“Can you switch channels? I want to talk alone.”

“Greg?” he asked his headset, and the former Army Ranger sergeant said, “This is bullshit. You stay on the line.”

Other voices filled the frequency. “He’s right!” Owen shouted, as another man said, “We let you live here. We took you in when nobody else wanted anything to do with nanotech and now you’re going to hide something from--”

Cam shut off his radio, leaving the headset in place. Then he stepped closer to the cabin and rapped his knuckles against the wood. “Can you hear me? Ruth?”
I’d have to say Page 69 is a very good barometer for the book as a whole. The closely meshed relationships, the ever-growing paranoia and the promise of more action… these things are the meat and bread of storytelling.

I grew up reading books like this—big, scary thrillers chock full of weird science, gunfights, and a hint of romance. That’s why I write what I do, and I hope Plague Zone knocks the eyeballs right out of your head.
Read an excerpt from Plague Zone, and learn more about the book and author at Jeff Carlson's website and blog.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue