Podcast novelist (and self-proclaimed future dark overlord) Scott Sigler burst onto the horror scene a couple of years ago Infected. If you’ve read (or listened to) Sigler’s original novel, I need only say two words to make you shudder involuntarily — chicken scissors.
With that moment, Sigler created something iconic, memorable and utterly horrifying. And it feels like in many ways, Sigler has been chasing that moment, trying to find that same horrific peak that had this reader glued to the page.
Part of what made that moment work so well wasn’t just the horrific use of the chicken scissors. Part of what made it work was that Sigler had created a character in Perry Dawson that the readers had some investment and relationship with. We cared about what happened to Perry because we’d been included in his apparent descent into madness as a virus from outer space ravaged his body and Perry fought back, desperate to win back control.
It’s that emotional investment in the characters that’s been missing from later Sigler works and is, unfortunately, lacking in his latest novel Pandemic. And for a novel that weighs in at close to five-hundred pages, not having a character or two that we can like, identify with or have some type of investment in their fate means there are large stretches of the story where you’re just waiting around to see how dies next.
And make no mistake — Sigler isn’t afraid to kill of characters. He’s more than willing to create a few dozen and find ways for them to shuffle off this mortal coil in interesting and horrific ways. And there are some genuinely page-turing moments of horror in Pandemic as humanity struggles to fight back against an alien virus that wants to conquer our world and wipe us all out.
But unlike the masters of the horror genre (Stephen King, Richard Matheson), Sigler’s downfall is that we don’t have any characters we can identify with. Both King and Matheson are masters of putting an ordinary, flawed person into a horrifying situation and allowing the reader to see how he or she reacts to the situation unfolding. Sigler had that with Dawson, but has been struggling to find that type of character in each of his novels since.
Reading the novel on the printed page, I kept wondering if Pandemic might be more effective as a podcast novel — unfolding episodically and with time between each segment to allow certain events to sink in a bit more and to forget about other threads that never quite held my interest.
And while Pandemic is an improvement over the second novel of the Infected trilogy, it simply doesn’t come close to the raw, page-turning power that the original installment had. Infected had me losing sleep, eager to read just one more chapter and to see what would happen next. Pandemic has a few such page-turning moments but they’re a bit more scattered across a huge page count.
Pandemic is a good novel that could have been great.
In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of Pandemic as part of the Amazon vine program in return for a fair, honest review.