Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Book Review: A War of Shadows

September is Outbreak the PorPor Books Blog !

Book Review: 'A War of Shadows' by Jack L. Chalker

1 / 5 Stars

'A War of Shadows' (314 pp) was published by Ace Books in 1979. The outstanding cover illustration is by Luis Royo.

'Shadows' is set in the near future, i.e., the late 1980s. As the novel opens, a series of strange and terrible diseases are striking America's small towns. The symptoms vary from one locale to another, but include mass blindness, mass mental retardation, mass catatonia, and mass amnesia. The attacks display a peculiar pattern: after the initial wave of illness, no further cases are observed. Nothing overtly suspicious - the deaths of large numbers of animals, tainted drinking water, overflights by crop-duster planes - can be associated with the outbreaks.

The government tries to cover up the extent of the outbreaks, but it is increasingly clear that no ordinary infectious agent can be responsible, and that someone is waging Germ Warfare against the USA. Dr Sandra O'Connell and Dr Mark Spiegelman from the National Disease Control Center (NDCC) are assigned to assist with the government's investigations.

In due course, O'Connell and Speigelman are stationed at Fort Detrick, Maryland, given access to well-equipped laboratories, and tasked with finding out what type of organism could be causing the outbreaks. There they make a fateful discovery......and learn that they are fighting a war against a clever and resourceful enemy, one who hides within a complex web of conspiracies...........

'War of Shadows' was a real disappointment. Even making allowances for the fact that the book was published early in Chalker's career, it suffers from too many weaknesses to be a worthwhile read.

For one thing, although 'Shadows' presents itself as an 'outbreak' novel, after the first 70 pages the epidemic plot is abandoned, and the book turns into a 'thriller' involving a terrorist organization's efforts to seize control of the US. 

Having read no other of his novels, I am open to arguments that sf is Chalker's strong point; however, the thriller genre is not, and in 'Shadows', there are too many plot contrivances (a heroine is just thin enough to squeeze through a fence to escape her pursuers; a rescue team arrives just seconds before the villains are about to escape) to give the plot the necessary sense of realism. As well, Chalker frequently interrupts the narrative to provide political commentary via internal monologues and speeches given by his characters; this commentary, which invokes classic 70s Paranoia over the Growing Power of Those Who Govern, quickly becomes tedious.

Another weakness of the novel is the author's prose style, which frequently reads like a first draft that received little, if any, editorial oversight. Often, the syntax of many sentences is so unclear that I had to re-read them multiple times to finally grasp what Chalker was trying to communicate. Making things worse is the fact that dialogue passages suffer from what could politely be called 'wooden' writing. 

The verdict ? 'War of Shadows' is a dud...........this one is best avoided.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You never seem to get any comments, so I wanted you to know that your work is not completely thankless. Keep it up! :)