Review of Jim LaVigne’s “Plaguesville, USA”
Plaguesville, USA tells a tale set in a world several years after much of the human population has been wiped out by a lethal virus. The timeframe is in the late 2070’s, and much of the United States has turned into a desecrated land filled with survies, as they are called: gangs, small fiefdoms, cannibals, mutants, and a few people trying to maintain some sense of civilization. We are introduced to Dr. Justin Kaes, an epidemiologist from the CDC in New Atlanta who has found himself in charge of a mission to prevent the “Sick,” as the plague has been dubbed, from reinventing itself and destroying what is left of the meager human population. He has been sent to collect the one man who has survived the original iteration of the plague and whose blood might help them create a vaccine for whatever new iterations may come about. He is Howard Lampert, a crusty, cranky old man of 102 who lives in Minnesota. The story picks up after Justin and his team have picked up Mr. Lampert and are on their way to San Francisco, where there are doctors waiting who have the resources to craft the potential vaccine. The doctor and his team’s massive RV has run out of fuel down in Oklahoma, where they are surrounded by gangs and religious zealots who also happen to be cannibals. We are introduced to Teresa, a member of one of the local gangs, who’s interested in hitting the bricks because she has grown weary of the Blood Claws (not to mention that more than one member of the gang has tried to rape her). She crosses paths with Justin as he and the others are trying to figure out what to do to keep moving west and the duo form an unlikely partnership. The story tells of their adventures, which include an onslaught of virtually every post-apocalyptic danger imaginable, except perhaps for zombies, as they try to complete an almost impossible mission.
Plaguesville gives the reader a thoroughly realized post-apocalyptic world that isn’t set in our time, but over a half a century in the future. Each chapter provides a nice little beginning blurb giving the reader a small taste of the world before the fall, with advertisements about the food, entertainment, and culture that adds additional flavor to the story. As readers will note, this tale has an interesting arrangement with the characters. Justin is the main character and we see the world through his eyes in many ways, but as Mr. Lampert comes from our day and age (he would be around 38 right now), it is easy to identify with him and his perspective on a bombed out, shell shocked world of plague and Mad Max sensibilities. Justin is a doctor on a mission who finds himself attracted to the barbaric and yet incredibly enticing Teresa, and Mr. Lampert brings an old fashion sensibility to the story that is entertaining and somewhat humorous in spots, while getting dark and gruesome in others. While Justin the voice of ethics and morality in a world with very little of such things, Lampert is the grumpy voice of reason and sanity in a world gone mad.
The story runs its cast through several different adventures-they meet the good, the bad, and the ugly that remain in the world, and there are quite a few secondary characters’ stories told that intertwine with the main cast as the tale runs toward its completion. Again, the author has done a good job of laying out a detailed post-apocalyptic world and gives us a saga with plenty of action and adventure. Time and again, Justin’s mission is on the brink of oblivion, but he continues to maintain hope and believe that as long as Lampert remains alive they can resolve things. In some ways, it felt like there were almost too many near misses in the story, but it kept things moving at a fast clip. Overall, this was a fun read, with a few gentle messages that weren’t too heavy-handed about corruption, craving for power, and man’s undeniable lust to cause his own destruction. The growing attraction between Justin and Teresa is handled with a deft hand that made it feel believable and touching, despite the fact that these two people were worlds apart in so many ways. If I have a criticism of this book, it would perhaps be that the story does not feel complete. We are only introduced to the CDC team once they’ve broken down in Oklahoma and not when they set out from Atlanta, pick up Mr. Lampert, and make their way through so many other adventures leading up to that point. Granted, the book is already a healthy 350 pages, but I felt as if there were more stories to be told. Even with this minor complaint, this is an entertaining and robust post-apocalyptic tale with entertaining characters and a setting that was quite compelling.
Plaguesville, USA can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Plaguesville-USA-ebook/dp/B0078FN0RA/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1336273247&sr=8-1