Viral Nation: Excellent Premise & Potential, Undercooked Plot

Speculative fiction that deals with apocalyptic futures always generates a lot of questions. In a way, it’s part of the pleasure of reading those end-of-the-world books, because it offers readers a chance to consider what the not so distant future may be like (well, sort of).  I’ve read a fair few of these stories, so I was curious to see how Shaunta Grimes would create a new twist on this topic.  Despite the intricately laid out plot and excellent characterization, there were some ways that “Viral Nation” felt like there were a few too many…time loops that left me more confused than intrigued.

While the plot begins with the end of a plague-like viral outbreak in the US, the real story centers on Clover, a sixteen-year-old autistic girl who is smart and determined to go to the Academy and her brother West who is wrongfully accused of murdering his High School crush.  In this futuristic world, people are forced to take an injection each day to ward off the virus.  As per usual in the YA apocalyptic world, parents are scarce (and most often intimidating), as are resources.

Grimes puts a lot of good ideas into this post-apocalyptic Reno, such as the use of time travel, catching criminals before crimes are committed and the idea of Time Mariners (who are the workers permitted to conduct missions in the future).  However, I was curious to know more about the time travel and would have liked to see it be more instrumental in the final outcomes.  I mean, hey, if you had a portal to the future wouldn’t you kind of want to check it out just a bit?  While some of the rules of this world were outlined towards the end (i.e. only autistic people can time travel and then only for half an hour), I wanted to see these rules addressed.

Clover’s character was the most likeable.  Her quirky blend of sometimes blurting out the wrong things in social situations as well as her curiosity helped to draw me further into the narrative.  Her character shows the most growth throughout the novel, which made for a more solid story-arc. Clover and West’s father’s narrative leaves much to be desired in the way of growth or plot development.  Although his struggle was clear, whether or not he came to grips with this difficulty was ambiguous.  I enjoyed the banter between West and Clover; the budding romance between Jude and Clover has potential for future installments in this series, but only served to muddy up the already meandering plot.

Despite some potential, the series has flaws.  If you are patient and love to read stories about post-apocalyptic worlds, this is an interesting read with some intricate details.  I can’t say that the payout of this book is great, because it’s not.  In time, we’ll have to look to the future to see if this series reveals more answers in the coming installments.  Grimes leaves a lot of holes in this space-time-continuum with “Viral Nation,” which makes me wonder: how much intrigue is too much?

 

*Thanks NetGalley & Penguin Group for the Advance Reader Copy!

In Defense of Future Me

Young Me

You know Back to the Future, right?  In the sequel, where Marty McFly has to go into the future and save his future son from ruining his life? I was watching that movie the other night and I had an epiphany.  (Sort of like the one that Doc Brown must have had when he smacked his head on the toilet and invented the time machine, except that I wasn’t on the toilet and try as I might, I still haven’t figured out that flux capacitor business).

Epiphanies are usually centered around brilliant ideas—the light bulb, indoor plumbing—but sometimes, they are of a more startling discovery.  This morning, whilst poring over an “eat local” map, I had just such an epiphany: my younger self would totally call my present self a douche.  I can imagine how it would all go down, too:

Me of the Present: Ooh! Hybrids! Sunscreen! Yoga! Health Foods! Early Bed times!

Young Me: Douche.

(At this point, Young Me would likely wander off smelling somewhat of patchouli to not shower and maybe eat a waffle and sleep off last night’s all-nighter cheeseburger pizza bender).

The more I began to think of Young Me, the more I began to feel restless, as if I could attain all of my goals if only there was a Delorian to ferry me into the past and allow me to re-write the future.  It’s not that the present is bad.  It’s just that I had this terrible case of the what-ifs.  If you’ve never been afflicted by the what ifs, they are a little bit like if mosquitos and piranhas mated and woke up on the wrong side of the bed.

What if I’d written more in university? What if I’d stayed on only one career path? What if I’d just said no to that last cheeseburger pizza? (Would my ass still fit into the pants of Me past?)  What if…what if…what if…

The what ifs were so bad that they whined in my ear all night until finally, I got up and began to watch a documentary on raccoons, because, you know, documentaries on raccoons are kind of boring.  And then something sort of awesome happened.

Even though it was past two in the morning my non-night owl husband came downstairs and we spent the night talking and laughing—it was instant magic.  (It kind of always is).  Just like that, the What Ifs were zapped away in one big electric charge of Good Times.  (Good Times always trump What Ifs).

It was then that I realized something about Young Me: she doesn’t know shit.  After all, would you listen to your teenage self if she/he told you to wear Winnie the pooh overalls?

I’m hoping you answered no on that one.

I’m betting it’s not just writers that are hard on themselves.  Sure, we’ve got the whole starving artist-solitary-haunted by unfinished drafts thing going for us, but everyone’s got a few…issues. So here’s the thing.  As I sit here in my thoroughly yuppie neighborhood Starbucks, I’ve decided to let team old me win this round.  I forgive myself for not fighting THE MAN as hard as I used to.  I mean, hey.  THE MAN does kind of pay for our house and stuff…so he can’t be that bad…can he?

Here is what I’ve decided to do:

Be in the moment.  Take care of your present self in defense of your future self, because regardless of what may have been, we only really have the present to live in.  After all, if I had the chance to re-write my life, what awesome things (and people) would be missing? After all, let’s not forget what Doc Brown says about meddling with the time space continuum: “Great Scott! You could destroy the entire universe!”

Have you ever had a case of the What Ifs?  If so, how do you get rid of them? Also: if you had a DeLorean and could go back and tell a younger version of yourself something, what would it be?