Sunday, April 15, 2012

The white plague

Frank Herbert
G.P. Putnam , 1982 (my copy is from Tor, 2007)
Size: Average (my copy has 444 pages)
Theme: Drama
Narrative: third-person
Main character: John Roe O’Neill
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

A bomb attack in Ireland kills the wife and daughter of John Roe O’Neill, an American geneticist recently arrived to Ireland on a research grant. News of the American tourist family tragedy flows and is quickly forgotten. But not by John, who decides to share his great pain with the rest of the world. With his scientific knowledge on microbiology and genetics, he develops an innovative virus that targets only women and that leads to a very quick death. He moves on to deploying it in Ireland, Great Britain and Libya, as countries that in some way have contributed to the IRA bombing.

The book follows John as he goes to Ireland to observe the apocalyptic effects of his work. Other major characters include the teams struggling to find a cure in different countries, a couple which manages to isolate themselves from the virus, and a troupe of 3 unique individuals that travel with John for some time through Ireland in an attempt to expose him as the Madman. John goes through an inner conflict as he witnesses the devastating effect the plague had on Ireland. Women have become revered and the most prized 

I enjoyed the story and found the plot enticing and convincing. As is typical of Frank Herbert, this was groundbreaking work for its time. The level of technical details on the plague was appropriate, although some of that content will surely blow past most of the readers who do not have a science background. What I enjoyed the least was the pace of most of the story. A significant part of John’s trip through Ireland’s countryside has a very slow pace and I had to struggle a bit to find the motivation to keep reading. 

*** Spoiler Alert *** 
(Warning: the following text contains information that may hamper/ruin how much you enjoy the book):

Towards the end of the book, John’s cover is blown as he cannot avoid but confessing to the priest that had been travelling with him. As he arrives to one of the science facilities working on the plague, he reveals sufficient details about it to allow the scientists to find a cure. Despite this, a few generations will be needed to attain gender balance again, and society will have to make considerable adjustments.

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