The Permanent Press: 1/24/14
Hardcover, 256 pages
Carl Sims, a young virologist, discovers a plot hatched by a group of international scientists to cull, in a matter of weeks, two-thirds of the world's population - some 4.5 billion people, by releasing a deadly virus that kills two-thirds of those it infects. Their goal is to reduce Earth's population from an unsustainable seven billion to two billion. What is he to do? Try to stop the conspiracy, or join it?
Horrific, yes, but what if this culling could prevent the extinction of some forty percent of our planet's flora and fauna? Or if he was certain it was the only way to prevent an even larger human die-off, incurring significantly more suffering, by the end of this century? Or if he were convinced it represented the only hope for humanity surviving at all? This is at the heart of this thriller, for these viruses do, in fact, exist.
Most everything that plagues mankind today - the highest concentration of atmospheric CO2 in 3 million years, escalating extinction rates, habitat loss, fishery collapses, climate change, polar and glacial ice thaws, arable land loss, desertification, aquifer depletions, ocean acidification, unprecedented air pollution, looming famine and social unrest - stems from over consumption which, unchecked, will lead to Earth's sixth mass extinction event.
The Culling by Robert Johnson had all the earmarks of a great novel choice for me.
Deals with a plague/virus/outbreak - check
Main characters work for the CDC - check
Action packed and includes sound scientific facts - check
A team is exhuming the graves of flu victims in Alaska - check
Sadly, despite all it had going for it, The Culling needed culling for me - a so-so novel
In The Culling by Robert Johnson 27 year old Dr. Carl Sims is a buff doctor with the CDC who aspires to work with the lethal Biosafety Level 4 viruses (Ebola and Marburg) but is still in level 2. His lover and fellow CDC employee, Dr. Angela Varella (28) tries to tell him to tell him that this is because every other virologist at the CDC has more seniority than he does, but he resents this fact. Angela leaves the CDC for a job with an evil pharmaceutical company while Carl is called off to assist Dr. Jenna Williams in Guangdong Province, China, where there is a reported outbreak of influenza.
What Carl doesn't know is that his being requested by Jenna Williams to assist her is not a coincidence. Jenna knew Carl's father who headed the world wide campaign to encourage people to just have two children in order to stop global overpopulation. Soon Carl's an unwitting part of a global conspiracy. He must untangle the facts before he succumbs to what he is trying to stop.
My problem with The Culling by Robert Johnson is on two levels.
First all the characters are unsympathetic. Carl is annoying. His friend, Dr. Stuart Chew is even more annoying. Dr. Jenna Williams and Dr. Angela Varella are annoying. And they do very foolish things by "accident" that I simply can't accept. By the time we get to the culling conspiracy I'm sort of secretly leaning toward supporting it.
All the overpopulation information Johnson includes at the opening are well-known facts for me, known for many, many years. My lifetime also includes a period of time when lots of scientific facts for a new ice age were also being released (naturally this predates the current global warming facts). Maybe, just maybe, Johnson needs to look at a wider picture in order to have a better idea how complicated the overpopulation issues are, beyond simply only having two children. (For the record - 2 children.) It does not help the novel that we know early on that Carl accidentally impregnated Angela.
I can't help but feel that this novel has been written before in variety of different ways that were all more successful as novels. By the end, the message I though Johnson was trying to convey felt muddled and incomplete. It's not that it is bad; it just isn't as good as it could be.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of The Permanent Press for review purposes.