Two MIT researchers and their mountain guide are besieged in the Italian Alps by debris from a fragmenting asteroid, and an opportunity for discovery instead results in exposure to an obscure virus that in 1940s Australia spread “hallucinatory” voices through human consciousness. Via military reports of anomalous magnetic interruptions, a General grieving over the loss of his son initiates an aggressive mission to retrieve infected meteorites, and sufferers. Through radically advanced artificial intelligence, a link between the virus and human evolution is uncovered, but the General’s traumatized ambitions threaten the shattering discovery, and everyone associated with it.
Dr. Brad Bradley, an MIT astrophysicist, his brilliant colleague Cora, and mountain guide, Subbu, are—at first—simply glad to have survived a meteor storm, freakish because the fragmenting asteroid sourcing the event was not part of NASA’s near-Earth object catalog. Bradley, an ill-socialized, hyper-intelligent type, recognizes a chance for glory, shrugging off Subbu’s concern for AI inventor, Cora, who was exploring elsewhere on Mount Blanc. Doctor Bradley comes off as a slightly exaggerated “man-boy,” aware of Cora’s physicality, but devoted to science. Handling a meteorite, Bradley unintentionally cracks into its core—shaped like an egg—and is exposed to a powder which temporarily overwhelms him.
Quinton deftly intersperses Bradley and Cora’s scenes with those of anguished General William David Keller, whose son was earlier taken by this same virus, and communications analyst black-ops type, Ian, using the dark web to chat with the enigmatic Pr0m3th3us, plus effective backgrounding of early trauma, before opening the narrative to cover the military pursuit and consequences of the virus. Technology—such as Cora’s “Ali,” an interiorized AI providing data, telemetry and even moral support—is employed with general realism, as is the portrayal of persons operating in the liminal twilight, where global intelligence agencies fuse with tactical media, a jarring mix of boredom and extreme danger that burns through human movers like a virus all its own.
There are some unfortunate details. Mountain guide Subbu calls Doctor Bradley “boss,” a girly preciousness taints Cora, confusion with—and overuse—of semicolons, and emphasis on comfort (Starbucks, pets). These strike a sentimental note—intentional or not—buffering what could be a stronger work.
DEVEL DJANGO’s fast-paced menace and interesting speculative realism is gripping and entertaining, but could benefit from careful editing.
~William Grabowski for IndieReader