Friday, April 20, 2007

"The Patron Saint of Plagues" by Barth Anderson

After a couple of searches, I figured I must have read a review of this book on the "How the World Works" blog on http://www.salon.com/. Interesting, because Andrew Leonard mentioned it there on April 10, 2006 -- so close to a year ago. I got it out of the library two weeks ago, and I didn't have a long wait on interlibrary loan, so I might have requested it two weeks before that. The interesting thing is that it stuck in my mind so long that I wanted to read it. I don't remember what triggered me to request it after all that time.

It was really good. I can't comment on the science, but it seemed ripe with so many details -- about the economics of farming, and translation between Spanish and English, and religion, and viruses and immunology and planting transmitter/receivers inside people's brains, and it seemed so fully realized to me. I think it's set in 2061 (that year was mentioned once, though fairly early on; we were discussing when it took place, and Ed's guess was 75 years in the future) mostly in Mexico City, though the introduction takes place in Wisconsin. the one mention of Canada that I noticed was to "The Holy Republic of Quebec".

I told one of my more vocally anti-American colleagues about it, and he was totally unimpressed. This annoyed me inordinately, but perhaps I annoyed him by saying "I read a book you'd like, because you're Anti-American" in my typically well-carrying voice in our cube farm. He worked in the states for a while, and sometimes I wonder if he wasn't forced to leave by immigration officials, he has such a passionate hate-on for the US. But that's beside the point.

In this imagined future, Mexico has risen to be a first-world nation, while the US is struggling economically because its agriculture system has been compromised by a series of rampant plant diseases. Mexico and the US are having a war over Texas, and there's a communications embargo. Much of the US population has returned to farming co-ops (quops) in order to survive. So, when our hero Strake is asked to go help with an outbreak that might be Dengue fever, it's not exactly an easy journey. Once Strake gets to mexico, he has to work within a maze of politics and mistrust, both from Mexicans and people from other countries who he thought were allies or friends to solve the problem. I won't go into the who and the why, but you do find out, which always makes it satisfying for me.

There were just a couple of stylistic annoyances. The main character rarely uses the verb "to be" which I think makes him talk like a Klingon. The first time it came up, I thought the book was horribly copyedited, but then a few pages later it was explained. I had a hard time keeping track of the Mexican government officials -- maybe one of those fantasy novel character lists would have helped me (I read it much more quickly than I read most books, so it wasn't like when I spent two months reading War and Peace and had to keep a glossary of characters as a bookmark because I couldn't remember from week to week who was who). I'd like to think it wasn't racism or anti-hispanic-ness that caused me to have trouble with that.

However, those minor quibbles aside, I really liked this book. (So did Ed. When I brought it home, he read it first.)

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