Series: Zer0es #2
Published by Harper Voyager on August 16th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction
Format: Finished hardcover
Around here, we get the worst infestations of odorous ants every year especially in the late summer. We’d see them swarming in these thick nasty black trails to get at anything sugary inside the house. They’re also impossible to get rid of because they form these huge multi-nest colonies in the suburbs, and no matter what you do they just keep coming back. Even worse, when you crush them, they give off this foul smell, hence their name. Some people say it stinks like rotten coconuts, but to me it smells a little like putrid lemon cleaner. Either way, it’s gross. Sometimes at night, when I’m lying in bed in the dark, I’ll feel an itch on my arm and reach down to scratch…only to feel my hand brushing against a tiny speck on my skin. I can’t see a thing, but when I bring my fingers up to my nose, sure enough, I’ll smell that horrible scent and know that one of those buggers had gotten under my blankets. I would become so disgusted and unnerved, that I imagine ants are crawling all over my body, and that feeling would keep me up for hours…
Anyway, thanks to Chuck Wendig, I now know what that awful sensation is called. I also wanted to preface my review with that story just to give you an idea of why this book worked so well for me. Seeing that it’s prime ant season right now, it probably wasn’t the wisest decision on my part to readInvasive, since it’s a sci-fi thriller about killer ants. But it definitely gave me the chills I was looking for!
Invasive introduces us to Hannah Stander, a futurist who speculates and makes predictions about the future based on studies about current trends. She is a frequent consultant for the FBI, helping them with cases that involve science and technology on the very forefront of development, which can include topics to do with anything from artificial intelligence to genetic modification. While waiting to board her plane home to visit her parents, she receives a phone call from Agent Hollis Copper about a possible crime scene in upstate New York. An unidentified man has been found in a cabin, stripped of all his skin, lying amidst the bodies of over a thousand dead ants. The circumstances surrounding the death are so strange, Copper admits that the FBI aren’t sure what to make of it just yet. Could Hannah maybe fly on over to check it out, shed some light on the situation?
What Hannah discovers is disturbing. With the help of her friend Ez Choi, an entomologist, they determine that the dead ants at the cabin are no ordinary species—they were bioengineered, deliberately created using the genetic building blocks from multiple types of ants. Hannah follows the clues to a biotech company owned by Icelandic billionaire philanthropist Einar Geirsson, located in Hawaii. Working on behalf of the FBI, she visits the laboratory, hoping to interview some of the scientists and do some poking around in order to figure out what exactly is going on.
While the story takes place in the same world as Zer0es, Wendig’s previous techno thriller about hackers and cybercrime, Invasive can be read entirely on its own without any prior knowledge. We have a new scenario, a new protagonist, and any references or links I found to Zer0es were minor and nonessential to the main plot—which I actually thought was one of this book’s biggest plusses. It’s true that I had some really mixed feelings about Zer0es, not to mention I disliked pretty much all the main characters in it. So I couldn’t have been happier with this fresh start.
For one thing, I loved Hannah as a protagonist. She’s complex, well-written, and sympathetic. Raised by parents who were diehard survivalists, Hannah grew up seeing the end of the world behind every corner. From a young age, she was taught the skills to prepare for any possible doomsday scenario. In spite of her upbringing though, or perhaps because of it, Hannah chose not to focus on the end, but instead decided to pursue a career related to studying the future. Her current relationship with her parents is complicated, strained. She maintains that human advancement will either lead us to great things, or destroy us all. As a character, Hannah is shaped by this duality, and it’s also a recurring theme that pops up throughout the novel.
The story is also tight, fast-paced, suspenseful. It’s very reminiscent of Michael Crichton, but Invasivealso carries all the elements that make it a Chuck Wendig novel, with its dark humor, snappy dialogue, and hard action. I had a great time with this book, so much so that this might have just become my favorite work of his after his Miriam Black series. And if you know how much I love those books, you know I would not say something like that lightly.
So if you like the sound of a sci-fi suspense-thriller about technology and genetic engineering run amok, I highly recommend giving Invasive a look. Unless you have a fear of creepy-crawlies. This book could be a spine-chilling read at times. I mean, good thing the ants around here are more annoying than truly dangerous, or I’d be even more freaked out! Now excuse me while I go camp out in my bathtub with this can of Raid.