It's the future.
All children are, by law, engineered to be cancer proof. Fast food restaurants serve only healthy fare; being obese is punishable by a compulsory trip to fat camps; and the average life expectancy has skyrocketed. Life is swell for scientists James and Linda Logan, owners of a delightfully quaint home in the company town surrounding GeneFirm- the world's leading biotech and employer of them both. In fact both of them were born at GeneFirm, growing up children as children of employees in the shadow of the great company pyramid. Their idyllic life and rapidly rising careers are put on hold with the outbreak of a worldwide superflu pandemic. As the human race stares into the eyes of oblivion, it's up to the Logans to help save us all.
As we enter the adventure, James and Linda are moments from presenting a new medical breakthrough, and terrorists have been spreading this terribly horrific sickness. Virus 13 could be called a "bioterrorism thriller" without any accusation of false advertising. Doing so would sell short the biting cultural satire dripping from it's pages. As secondary characters are corralled by the fictitious Department of Homeland Healthcare for mandatory weightless retreats, it's difficult to discern who the target of criticism actually is. Author Joshua Alan Parry spares no one as he skewers callous government employees, the recklessly obese, a healthcare system which only cares about it's bottom line, and the campy fitness gurus tasked with running the retreat. The ridiculous can find no safe harbor from Parry's subtle wit.
In this way Virus 13 elevates itself above the din of glossy, mass market pandemic thrillers. The layers of criticism are subtler than the conspiratorial plot thread, which allows them to work in concert to divert your attention like a street magician skilled in misdirection. Similarly you wont be able to look away from this entertaining page turner. Parry does an excellent job of weaving in futurist concepts without making them feel like a block of exposition. His background in medicine and biology afford him solid practical knowledge in the disciplines which he's sci-fi fetishizing. He exercises amazing restraint by not unleashing a torrent of technical jargon on the unfamiliar reader.
Narratively Virus 13 switches perspectives in quick succession, passing the torch around every handful of pages. It serves to make this a speedy read whose three hundred and ten pages enthrall and entertain in equal measure. Deep mysteries of the universe are not being mined for here, and that's perfectly ok. Virus 13 serves as a perfect pallet cleanser between denser, headier fare- which is not at all a slight against this novel. There's a place for all things, with Parry's book being perfect vacation reading, finding itself perfectly at home with a beach towel and your sunscreen. Take it with you for a long weekend by the ocean and you will find yourself forgetting to turn over as often as is recommended to get an even tan.
Virus 13 is available now in paperback from Tor Publishing for an MSRP of $7.99.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Saturday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famousColonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.