Review: "Contagious" by Scott Sigler

For the past three years, horror/sci-fi thriller novelist Scott Sigler and I have remained at DEFCON 1, publicly nuking each other with insults, doing everything we can to ruin the other's credibility. He blames me for everything wrong in his life; I proudly retort that I'm the sole Junkie (the nickname for Sigler's fans) who won't bow to his megalomania. The word "hate" is thrown around. A lot. Are the venom-filled barbs truly heartfelt? I dare not say. But I will say this: After reading an advance reader's copy of the author's latest novel Contagious, I can utter, with truth coursing through my capillaries, that I hate Scott Sigler.

Scott Sigler's Contagious

I hate him the way a garage band guitarist might hate Jimi Hendrix, or the way a film school student might hate Steven Spielberg. I hate Scott because he's damned good at what he does, and he makes it look effortless. The dude's practically at the starting line of his professional novel-writing career, and he's already a master storyteller. Contagious is a superb tale -- more on this in a bit -- and this novel, better than any other work Scott has written to date, showcases the man's samurai skills as a writer.

As a fellow novelist, I know that what Scott Sigler has accomplished with this new book wasn't easy to create. It couldn't have been. But damn, he makes it look like it was. My envy burns green, and bright.

Contagious, the sequel to Sigler's Infected (released in April), resumes the tale of "Scary" Perry Dawsey, a former college football superstar-turned-murderous maniac. In Infected, Perry fell victim to several parasitic lifeforms -- alien invaders of the (at first) microscopic variety. As the creatures grew inside his body, so did their influence: the sentient "triangles" super-charged the man's short temper, and communicated with him via his nervous system.

Perry was driven to madness, murder most bloody, and self-mutilation. He barely survived the events in Infected, and the planet itself barely survived an alien invasion.

In Contagious, Perry (and other Infected supporting characters such as CDC doctor Margaret Montoya and government spook Dew Philips) are back ... and so are the parasitic aliens. Perry has reluctantly joined forces with the U.S. government to track down -- and, if Perry can keep his rage in check, study -- the latest victims of this alien onslaught.

It ain't easy. Perry can telepathically "sense" these creatures, making him an indispensable member of the team. But broken and haunted by the events in Infected, Perry is a booze-swilling asshole, intent on slaying the beasts that destroyed his life. Here is a man who's hit rock bottom, a shadow of the unlikely hero we saw in Infected ... and the collegiate superstar he once was is now a beyond-distant memory.

It's up to Margaret and Dew to keep Perry in line ... and more important, convince him that their mission to study (and not eradicate) the alien creatures is worthwhile. Perry, whose respect for authority was thoroughly derailed in Infected, isn't playing ball.

Now here's where Sigler shines as a tale-teller. Throughout this drama unfolds larger storylines, each upping the emotional tension and narrative stakes ... and each expertly executed. The White House reels in disbelief at the news of these parasites, particulary at the horrorific realization that "the infected" are growing in number. A special military unit has been dispatched to exterminate these threats. Everyman supporting characters, brilliantly realized by Sigler (his King-esque characterizations are a hoot and a treat to read), fall victim to the quiet invasion.

And we finally learn the source of the vile alien spores that are infecting the populace. Better still, we do more than learn about this source. We meet it. And see it. And hear it. And it's creepy as hell, because it's learning to adapt.

And then the shit hits the fan.

Sigler, taking a cue from the best of Tom Clancy's multi-plot masterworks, weaves unlikely storylines into a culminating, resonant, narrative force of nature. Emotions flare, bullets (and missiles) fly, and the story marches relentlessly toward the Michigan countryside where a family receives the worst infection of all. It's here -- in the introduction of the book's unsuspecting earth-bound villain -- where Sigler's prose becomes white-knuckled, disturbing, terror.

The third act of Contagious is an action-packed spectacle, a "widescreen" novel in scope and depth. To spoil its world-rending finale would be criminal, so I won't. I won't even give a hint. But as I read the final 10 pages of Contagious, I had to literally remind myself to breathe ... and to close my gaping piehole. Remarkable ending.

You owe it to yourself to buy a copy tomorrow, when it's released in bookstores across the United States. Hell, buy more than one. Buy three. That's what I did.

Regardless of your quantity, know that Contagious is quality -- quality storytelling, quality horror, quality action-adventure. I read the novel in a kind of awe, waiting for this intricate and fast-paced plot to fly off the rails.

It never did. It stayed on target, accelerated, and exceeded my expectations.

And that's why I hate Scott Sigler. He makes it look so damned effortless.

--J.C.