Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Dust" by Charles Pellegrino

Citizens of Long Island, listen up: You have a real knack for attracting creepy-crawlies. "Get out!" -- yes, there were lots of flies in THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, but do any of you remember the mite outbreak of 1994? The fleas three years before that? How about the slime plague of '73? The wasp infestation of '79? Civilization as we know it crumbles to Dust in this aptly titled eco-disaster novel by paleontologist/archaeologist Charles Pellegrino -- and I'll give you three guesses which part of the U.S. is nailed first.

Swarms of flesh-eating "motes" descend upon Long Beach, NY, reducing most of the population to skeletal remains by Chapter 2. Next we visit Tobago, where prey-switching has caused vampire bats to kill every human being on the island. An outbreak of Mad Cow Disease in Guyana -- fungal blooms wiping out crops in India -- birds dying by the thousands in France -- bacteria poisoning oceans and lakes...

What we're experiencing is a worldwide biological chain reaction triggered by a mass die-off of insects. Insects?! That's right -- they may chew up our homes and ruin our picnics, but their presence here is an absolute necessity; if they disappeared tomorrow, we could all be living in the Dark Ages by the end of the month. If nothing else, Dust paints a suitably grim portrait of what would happen if the Earth decided to "shake us off like a bad case of fleas," as one scientist in the book (quoting George Carlin) so eloquently puts it.

Sure, the story wanders all over the place and the characters are instantly forgettable, but Pellegrino's enthusiasm for the material -- as well as the intriguing premise itself -- makes this a fascinating read simply on an educational level alone. Plus, fans of the late Michael Crichton should note that Pellegrino's own DNA-in-amber theory -- the entire backbone of Jurassic Park -- comes into play here as a last-ditch attempt to repopulate the world with insects. There's also some fun to be had with the story's futuristic elements (the ultimate fate of O.J. Simpson is particularly satisfying), and I can't come down too hard on any book that features a military captain with Mad Cow Disease shooting missiles at Hoboken because - get this - he hates Frank Sinatra.


Kris Gilpin said...

great idea--more book reviews, please! ;-)

Ruth said...

I've just finished reading this and it's absolutely brilliant! So carefully researched so many facts woven in with the fiction ... if the 'horror' element of the first chapter puts you off, do stick with it, because it's absolutely worth it and I was sorry when the book ended.