Writers have been working at destroying mankind since the Epic of Gilgamesh was written more than 4,000 years ago. It's a genre that has never lost its popularity, and with each new generation comes a new way to kill off the majority of the population of the world. Maybe it's a secret thrill of most writers – who spend their time working alone – to want to kill off all those people who wouldn't buy a book.
Despite the reasoning for the proliferation of apocalyptic fiction, and despite the tried and true formula, it still makes for interesting fiction because it gives an author a chance to traumatize his heroes. And as we all know, that trauma can make for a gripping story.
Such is the case with Geoff Nelder's “ARIA: Left Luggage.”The formula is there as created in its post-modern template by Stephen King with “The Stand.” This is not to say that Nelder is unoriginal, far from the case. Within the basic formula you find comfort which gives Nelder wiggle room to play around with the genre.
In ARIA, the destruction of mankind comes in the form of a suitcase apparently hurled towards our Big Blue Marble by aliens hanging out in the outer reaches of the solar system. The case is picked up by the international crew of the International Space Station. Instead of tossing it back to its owners or destroyed – as suggested by the plucky mission specialist Jena – the case is sent back to Earth where it is promptly opened. Nelder could have unleashed any sort of hell on the planet but chose a virus that makes people forget up to a year of their lives every week.
The first third of the book deals with the ramifications of this, jumping between characters as they deal with this virus. Nelder handles this necessary component of apocalyptic fiction just fine. At times the jumping around amongst the dozen or so characters or situations seems rushed, but that's understandable. We need to understand how losing our collective memory at such a fast rate would affect things. One chapter that especially hits home is a diabetic trying to get her medication from drug stores where the pharmacists have all forgotten to show up for work.
As he gets to the meat of the story, Nelder focuses on Ryder Nape, a documentary maker and journalist, who with his girlfriend, his boss and his girlfriend's colleague escape infection by heading to a university study site set in the Welsh countryside. Ryder and his group are in contact with the astronauts at the space station and with a girl in Australia who seemingly is immune to the virus. (I mention her in passing not because she has anything to add to the story, but will probably be important in Left Luggage's sequel.)
There really are no surprises in this story, but I'll refrain from giving up the ending. I think it's fair to say that the space station crew eventually makes it to Wales and a possible cure for the virus makes its way to Earth. Surprising plot twists are overrated in fiction and many times are forced without any reason. I like to be led in any direction an author is willing to send me and I like to be engaged.
Nelder did a great job with this. Once I started reading I wanted to finish, and while I wondered where Antonio would pop up after his "death," I was more impressed with the creation and genesis of all the characters. I'm looking forward to reading the second book in this trilogy and hopefully Nelder will hold me until the third.