Book review: Harry Harrison — Plague from Space

1978 printing, so presumably the original and shorter version of this novel, which has apparently been published at two different lengths and under several titles. First published in 1965, and thus dated in odd little ways — not least being the lack of some 1990s-level consumer technology in a story set in a then near future where we have the technology to send a manned mission to Jupiter.

The story opens with that manned mission’s return to earth in dramatic fashion, with an emergency landing right on top of Kennedy Airport in New York, one which wreaks havoc on the airport. Young emergency room doctor Sam Bertolli is part of one of the first ambulance teams on the scene, and is directed to the ship itself. Thus he is the first to encounter the sole survivor — who dies within a few minutes of a deadly disease brought back from Jupiter.

There follows a medical mystery drama, as the city medical services follow standard quarantine procedures, and the situation escalates. Harrison does an excellent job of showing the hard decisions that need to be made and the human reactions — the people desperate to protect their beloved animals from a vital culling programme, the people trying to cover their own backs in the political games being played, the conflicting priorities in the battle to prevent the disease from spreading beyond the city. There’s a lot of good world-building detail about what the medical teams actually *do* in such a situation, rather than simple hand-waving. Unfortunately the mismatch between extrapolated technology levels and what we really ended up with can break suspension of disbelief for current audiences, in part because Harrison did such a good and careful job with this. But for all that it’s dated in places, it’s a good read, with a strongly drawn near-future world, some great characters, and a deadly serious task for them to do.

LibraryThing entry
Plague from Space (Sphere science fiction) at Amazon UK
Plague From Space at Amazon US


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s