Nanotechnology gone awry is the terrifying and all too believable premise of Plague Year, a post-apocalyptic novel by Jeff Carlson. This high-energy thriller is book one of a trilogy that recounts the tale of a chilling doomsday scenario. What is nanotechnology? Simply put it's the engineering of tiny machines. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter. A human hair is about 25,000 nanometers wide. The benefits of nanotechnology are limitless, the dangers unthinkable and when humanity is forced to take to the hills - literally - it may very well mean the end of the world.
A rogue scientist unleashes nanotechnology designed to fight cancer. But the tiny medical robots destroy other cells as well and they spread at an alarming rate killing everything under an elevation of 10,000 feet. Cam Najarro, a ski bum, along with a small group of survivors are camped on a California mountaintop in the High Sierras. In order to survive they make trips below 10,000 feet to forage for supplies but exposure to the machine plague is dangerous and they can't remain below for long periods of time. When they exhaust their supplies, they cannibalize the weakest members of their group. Their situation is looking bad when a survivor from another mountain camp shows up. Hollywood traveled through the valley and barely made it through the plague zone to find them. He's looking for others to join his camp. There are mixed opinions and some choose to stay put. Out of those who decide to make the trek to the other mountain, only Cam and Sawyer survive and at a terrible cost to their health. Sawyer claims to know something about the plague and this new camp has a radio but no one is picking up their transmission.
Meanwhile the U.S. capital has been set up in Leadville, Colorado, which at 10,150 feet is the highest incorporated city in the United States. The best minds in nanotechnology are there working on a cure. Ruth Goldman, a researcher aboard the International Space Station thinks she can develop an ANN (anti-nano). She's brought to Leadville but she discovers that not everyone is interested in stopping the plague. The politicians and the military want to use it as a weapon of mass destruction.
This thought-provoking sci-fi thriller is one of the most realistic looks at a post-apocalyptic future I've read. The premise is original and highly entertaining. Carlson paints vivid descriptions of the devastation and what it means to live above 10,000 feet elevation. He's assembled a rich cast complete with all the weaknesses and flaws that make them human. His characters are a microcosm of humankind at its best and worst. I love the way they pull the reader right into the story and reveal the back history as the plot develops. The science is plausible and detailed without slowing the pace. The story kept me on the edge of my seat until the last page. I'm looking forward to reading Plague War, the second book in the trilogy.
Publisher: Ace; First Printing edition (July 31, 2007)
Paperback: 304 Pages