Premise: In a future suffering from global warming storms and government-mandated health requirements, scientists James Logan and his wife, Linda, work at GeneFirm, the world’s leading biotech company. It is there that so much of the world’s vaccines are developed and where genetic research has essentially eliminated most diseases.
When a bioterrorist attack spreads a super-flu virus around the world, GeneFirm is tapped to come up with a vaccine. The problem is that Linda is the head of the research team developing the vaccine and her team ends up in lockdown in the underground labs at GeneFirm.
After he collapses from a supposed brain tumor, James goes looking for answers. He is supposed to be immune to cancer because of the preventative genetic alterations most people have done to themselves, but in his search he learns the flu virus attack is more than it seems. When he discovers the reasons for the attack, his life and those he loves are in danger, but the worldwide ramifications are much greater.
Themes: Current scientific issues are the primary theme of Virus Thirteen. We are shown one idea of the after-effects of global warming. Most diseases are eliminated through vaccines and genetic manipulation. The ramifications of curing some of those diseases are what is really at issue. What happens when curing a disease is worse than letting it continue to exist?
Government-controlled health care is an issue that is covered. Because most diseases have a cure in Virus Thirteen, vaccines and genetic alterations are mandated, though some people shirk the government and have free births. Heart disease prevention is enforced through government agencies who track down overweight people and force them into grueling and controlled exercise and eating programs.
Pros: Virus Thirteen has a quick tempo with short chapters, making it pretty readable and easy to consume. The premise is interesting as a future pandemic postulation in spite of the rough execution. The highly-technical scientific subjects are made surprisingly easy to understand thanks to a knowledgeable author.
Cons: One major problem with Virus Thirteen is the lack of setting. It is set in the future, but with no explanation of exactly when or where these events are taking place apart from a couple mentions of Austin, Texas. The metaphor and simile use is awful, and that’s not the worst part of the prose. With the amount of flippant profanity, sex, and inane humor I felt like I was reading the polished work of a high school student, complete with insults about overweight people with fat and poop jokes. On top of this, I sensed a political agenda with the focus on global warming and genetic manipulation, with an antagonism toward children because of a perceived overpopulation on the planet.
Recommendations: If you have a juvenile sense of humor and are looking for a quick read about the near future that touches on scientific ethics, politics, and genetic manipulation, by all means give Virus Thirteen a shot. These also happen to be its biggest faults, trying too hard to be unsuccessfully funny in places and with a disregard to giving the reader a true sense of setting. This lack of place or time made the global warming and genetic science of Virus Thirteen weaker, to the point where the story suffers from a lack in believability or plausible objectivity. Virus Thirteen is fast-paced and about as lighthearted as a global pandemic can be, but there are also so many other better executed post-apocalyptic novels out there.