Pandemic: The Extinction Files by A. G. Riddle (Audiobook)

A disappointment despite some compelling side characters.

Pandemic: The Extinction Files, Book 1 by A. G. Riddle

Published by Riddle, Inc. Read by Edoardo Ballerini. Produced by Audible Studios.

In Africa, a mysterious outbreak spreads quickly. Teams from the CDC and WHO respond, but they soon learn that there is more to the epidemic than they believed. It may be the beginning of a global experiment–an event that will change the human race forever.

Another one where I have no idea how or why this book got into my Audible library. I don’t know if it was recommended to me or if I just randomly clicked on something on the front page of the site to try to use up my Audible credits before I cancelled my subscription. Probably that latter one, because I had a lot to use up, and I try to vary my genres now and then. (I think this is a “thriller.”)

Listen time: About 75% of the ~19 hour run time, 1/21-1/23/2018.

This was a very interesting book, but probably not for the reasons you might expect. I found it to be an incredibly mixed bag. It had *just* enough interesting material to keep me listening to the very end, though.

It might surprise you to learn that Pandemic is about a virus outbreak. It starts with a fairly typical outbreak story that you’ve probably read or seen a hundred times before (person in third world gets sick, local doctors suspects it’s Very Bad, virus spreads, CDC workers begin efforts to stop the outbreak, etc.). It was so ordinary that I thought I would stop listening after an hour or so and move on to another book.

But then a few chapters hooked me, mainly the ones involving a WHO woman named Peyton. I was intrigued by the mobilization efforts to fight the pandemic, and the descriptions of how such a fight is conducted. I am a sucker for end-of-the-world stories, and the realistic portrayals (real to me, at least, who knows absolutely nothing about fighting pandemics) fascinated me. (Personally I am pretty sure the human race will end because of something like a virus or bacteria, not a nuclear war or climate change.)

I, the reader, kept fighting with the author, though, who insisted that Peyton was not the main character, and kept returning to chapters about another guy named Desmond. Desmond is a super-spy-ish, computer-ish guy who had lost his memory, rather similar to that Jason Bourne guy. I started skipping his chapters as soon as I heard his name. He was running from police, logging into computers, hacking passwords, playing virtual reality games, trying to find out who he was. I didn’t care one whit about him, because his plot arc did not intersect with the struggle against the outbreak.

I enjoyed the book the way I was listening to it: Skipping the Desmond chapters without remorse, listening with fascination to the Peyton chapters that dealt with the outbreak in Kenya.

Unfortunately the two characters of Desmond and Peyton came together into a single plot thread, taking Peyton away from the outbreak, and the story kind of veered off a cliff for me. It happened a bit shy of the halfway point. The characters boarded a helicopter, and there followed a very long period of backstory and exposition that demolished the book’s pacing and threw the unfolding pandemic far into the background.

I might have stopped listening, but unfortunately for me, I was invested in a few other side characters that I cared about, and wanted to hear how their stories turned out. Their stories, back in Kenya and Atlanta, were more compelling to me than the main “thriller” story of the globetrotting duo of Desmond and Peyton trying to track down the people responsible for the pandemic. Sadly, the side characters only got about half a chapter in every ten, if they were lucky. I would have loved to hear more of them.

I skipped a lot of chapters. A lot of other chapters I didn’t pay much attention to, even though I technically played them. My ears only perked up when the story returned to the side characters I liked. In the end, I was satisfied with the narrative arc for the side characters, but the plot for the main characters (ie. the main plot for the book) turned out to be a disappointment.

Edoardo Ballerini, by the way, is another competent reader, but he doesn’t have a lot of personality. He is more of a TV commercial voice than a storyteller, if you know what I mean. He seems to be more concerned with perfect diction and consistency, as opposed to conveying strong emotions. Actually that’s probably not fair. He’s certainly not the worst I’ve ever heard. But he doesn’t really “bring characters to life” in the way someone like Luke Daniels or an actor would.

Would I recommend it? Not unless you’re bored. It would probably make a much better movie. But they really need to work on Peyton’s character. She started out a “strong female lead” and then deflated into little more than “the girlfriend” for the main character. I was really disappointed in that.

Despite giving this book a somewhat poor review, I still found it fascinating from an author’s perspective. This book broke *so many* of the rules that everyone tells you about. Yet for some reason, it was published, and someone made an audiobook of it! Show, don’t tell, they say. This book told like a maniac. Use active voice, they say. I don’t think this book had a single active verb from beginning to end. Almost every chapter began with a very formulaic establishing line like, “X verbed in Y, verbing.” “Jerry sat in his office, looking over the research papers.” “Betty walked the streets of Berlin, searching for the suitcase.” “Rex stood in the Atlanta hospital, staring at the whiteboard.” Every. Single. Chapter.

Weirdly … sometimes it worked. There were plenty of chapters where I was riveted by what was being “told.” It feels like the kind of book that needs to be studied to understand why some parts worked and others didn’t.

For example, I understand why it makes sense to begin every chapter with a line to quickly establish the character and setting, because almost every chapter switched to a different location. It’s just that the author made no effort to deviate from a very specific grammatical formula. But then, why would you? Formulas are formulas because … they work.

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