Book Review: The Apocalypse Strain by Jason Parent

“The strength lies in the action and pacing more than relatable characters or a complex, hard-hitting story, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. And no mean feat, either.”

 

The Apocalypse Strain by Jason Parent- coverWhen Jason Parent wowed us with his collection Wrathbone and Other Stories (Red Room Press, 2016) in November of 2016, he had published a few books and more than a few short stories in various anthologies. In the not-quite four years since, he has proven to be something of a prolific, and underrated, author, with novels such as the bloody police procedural A Life Removed (Red Adept Publishing, 2017), dark science fiction thriller People of the Sun (Sinister Grin Press, 2017), the ‘What Hides Within’ duology (What Hides Within and Victoria, both Bloodshot Books, 2017 and 2018 respectively) and many more, with even more short stories. When we learned that he had joined forces with Flame Tree Press for his latest release, we knew we had to check it out.

The frozen, desolate landscape of Siberia plays home to a laboratory housing a multi-national crew of scientists and astronauts working on various experiments for which the cold environment is perfect. The story begins with a group of astronauts drilling into the ice in a training exercise for a manned mission to Mars. One of the crew, Sergei Kobozev, is troubled by the voice of his deceased daughter, something he initially writes off as his imagination. Until it becomes quite persistent. Back at the lab, microbiologist Doctor Clara St. Pierre is examining a new pandoravirus discovered below the ice, Mollivirus sibericum, affectionately referred to by Clara as “Molli”. She describes it as a “treasure trove of cryogenically frozen life…waiting to be rediscovered”. She has no idea how right she is. While examining Molli, wheelchair-bound Clara is disturbed by an attack on the lab, carried out by a seemingly unhinged man named Dante.

While not a wholly original idea—comparisons have already been made to Carpenter’s The Thing—it does make for an exciting premise; an isolated location, a large cast of characters, each seemingly with their own agenda, an outside force that threatens not only the safety of everyone at the base, but could wreak havoc on a wider population if allowed to escape. Ultimately, the story may suffer from too many characters, too many different threads to follow and fates to be discovered. Some characters are forced together in different groups to fight for their survival, only to become separated and meet up with others. This is most likely to increase the feeling of paranoia between the characters, trying to determine who is infected by this strange, outside force and is therefore a murderous threat. But, in doing so, it leads to confusion, and each member of the large cast is never fully developed to encourage the reader to fully invest in them. Clara is the one character best developed and most like a protagonist, but the others are not much more than fodder for the infected to attack. Dante’s back story was very intriguing, and his could make for a bigger story.

That said, the book doesn’t lack in terms of high-tempo action scenes. There are some fantastic descriptions of body horror when two or more separate people become infected and then seem to join the collective consciousness of the virus. While the survivors race through the labyrinthine layout of the Siberian base, trying to evade the infected and find an exit from a complex under extreme lockdown measures, they must also contend with the fact that time is running out, as their respective governments scramble to contain the virus and prevent an outbreak using all options available. Including destroying the base. This does make for a tense atmosphere within the book, and the moments when the different groups of survivors encounter the infected, described in all their gruesome glory by Parent’s dark imagination, are genuinely thrilling.

It is the kind of story that wouldn’t be out of place on the big screen, with some tremendous CGI effects and plenty of explosions and tense music. It would probably appeal more to the action movie fans than horror lovers. Not that there isn’t plenty of blood and body horror to put a grin on a hardcore horror fan’s face. But it is likely a studio would play that stuff down and play up the conspiracies and double-crossing, and make a ton of money at the box office as a summer blockbuster. The strength lies in the action and pacing more than relatable characters or a complex, hard-hitting story, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. And no mean feat, either.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Flame Tree Press
eBook: 240 (pps.)
Release Date: 11 August 2020

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