Now that the holidays are here, I'm cranking up my reading again. I just finished Jeff Long's "Year Zero", and it was a slog. I first encountered Jeff Long when a relative very strongly recommended "The Descent". I normally trust this person's taste in reading (she was also a big fan of Donaldson when we were growing up), so I gave that a shot.
In "The Descent", humanity discovers that the crust of the Earth hides an enormous series of caves hundreds of miles beneath the surface. A strange group of characters joins a military expedition down into the caves, looking for the creatures who live there, who occasionally sneak out to attack or capture humans. They discover a parallel, savage civilization and unlikely adventures ensue. I thought it was only average. Some good ideas are offset poorly by too many credulity-straining plot devices, and Clancy-esque 2d characters kept it from being really enjoyable.
In "Year Zero", a plague erupts from a 2000-year-old artifact, and the world slowly grinds to halt, like in "The Stand". This is sort of an updated version of that apocalypse, with a community of scientists seeking a cure isolating themselves at Los Alamos and using satellites and other technology to keep track of things around the world. One of the main characters, Nathan Lee, has to overcome a murder attempt in the Himalays to make his way through the world while looking for his daughter.
This one was a little bit better than "The Descent", maybe because I like end-of-the-world books, but that's not saying much. It was hard to really picture Nathan Lee without thinking of Nathan Lane, the actor in movies like "The Birdcage". The other major character is a mad genius scientist named Miranda, daughter of a powerful general. The first meeting with Miranda reminded me in a bad way of Robin Cook's horrible "Mutation" wonder-kid with her weird, advanced genetics experiments.
Anyway, as if the end-of-the-world plague weren't a big enough twist, the scientists start trying to clone 2000-year-old people, hoping to find one with natural immunity to the plague. Even with the usual willing suspension-of-disbelief, I wasn't willing to accept that people cloned from a drop of blood or whatever would not only come back to life as 25-year-old adults but with all of their memories intact. Too late in the book, one of them claims to be Jesus Christ, but whether he is the real thing is never made clear, and that ends up being a 30-40 page subplot.
I mean, look, if you are going to go to all that trouble to resurrect Jesus, I would think that should be a primary focus of the book, but ok. Eventually Nathan finds his daughter and finds the man who tried to kill him in Nepal, but neither of those resolutions is at all satisfactory, and the whole plague storyline also never really concludes. Maybe Long is considering a sequel, but I wouldn't be interested enough to read it. "The Stand" is far more engrossing and remains the standard.
I found "Year Zero" on a bargain shelf, which is the only reason I decided to give Long another chance. Now I know why it was on that shelf.Posted by Observer at December 17, 2004 09:45 AM
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