A multi-national research team, led by a medical genomics expert suffering from MS, study an ancient pandoravirus at a remote Siberian research facility. Called “Molli” by the research team, the organic substance reveals some unique but troublesome characteristics, qualities that, in the wrong hands, could lead to human extinction. The researchers soon learn that even in the right hands, Molli is a force too dangerous to escape their compound. But the virus has a mind of its own, and it wants out.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Apocalypse Strain! Massive thanks to Anne Cater for the invite and Flame Tree Press for the proof copy!
Truth be told, I was very much on the fence about this one. The blurb intrigued me, the cover even more so (yes, I’m a magpie, what of it), but two things stopped me from signing up right away. Firstly: did I really want to be reading about a virus given the current global situation? And secondly, did I really want to be reading about a main character who suffers from MS, having MS myself? Let’s just say all of the above did not quite reassure me I’d find in The Apocalypse Strain the kind of escapism I like, and sometimes even need.
Still, here we are, I obviously signed up despite my earlier misgivings. Why? Well in the end I decided that Molli, the ancient virus in play in The Apocalypse Strain, would probably not resemble COVID-19 at all, especially since the novel is set at a research facility in the middle of nowhere. And I was actually really curious about the MS angle. Why was it important enough to mention in the blurb? I wondered about how it might be represented, I’m a stickler for such details, if you’re going to write about a topic like a medical condition, you should get it right. And I thought that readers with MS, or a similar condition, who might be equally wary might benefit from a review from someone like me. So in the end I figured what the hell why not and went with it.
The Shakhova-Mendelsen Siberian Research Center, Siberia. A group of scientists of various flavours have been brought together and a security detail is keeping watch. Outside, protesters march. A virus has been found, an ancient virus, a giant virus, an intelligent virus. When microbiologist Clara is in the middle of running tests, one of the astrobiologists completely loses the plot and drinks the Mollivirus sibericum, a.k.a. Molli, attacking Clara in the process.
Clara has an advanced form of MS, and it is relevant to the story, MS is definitely the condition to pick to pull off the kind of plotline the author has gone for. While never overly descriptive or scientific, I did feel the condition is aptly represented, except perhaps that Clara has a brilliant brain in a manky body and the lack of brain fog and/or fatigue (which most patients suffer from) is not mentioned at all, so that’s a teeny tiny gripe on my part, but definitely not something most readers would even notice. What happens to Clara is obviously speculative but medically plausible under the given circumstances, so no complaint there.
After a few introductory chapters, the shit hits the fan and the action doesn’t let up until the evil (and outright fantastic) epilogue. This is sci-fi horror on speed! If you love fast-paced action stories, this is the one for you. This was so high-octane and speculative it was pure escapism. Who has time to worry about real-life issues when reading about characters who are fighting and running for their lives, warding off maggoty creatures, burning stuff down, blowing stuff up!
The Apocalypse Strain was a quick and fun read, despite (or maybe thanks to) the gory bits that had me cringe and make faces at my book. If you’re in the market for a high-octane story about what could go wrong in a research facility, and basically opening Pandora’s box, this is one to check out!