Book Review: Thripz and Dust

Thripz (Author: Robert Farley)
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Dust (Author: Charles Pellegrino)
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It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book, and it seemed like these two go together.  They are both stories of tiny animals gone horribly wrong, but they are also quite different.

I’ll start with Thripz, which reads very much like a SyFy Movie of the Week Script:

Scientists deduce the creatures are thrips, a kind of common yard and garden pest. But these have been altered at the genetic level. Now they are able to metabolize pesticides and to reproduce at incredible rates, effectively being born pregnant.   Within twenty-four hours, more than a dozen deaths have been attributed to the abnormal pests.”

Yep, Genetically modified thrips that attack people and have a toxic bite. Created by a mad scientist in the pay of North Korea, hiding out on Hawaii.  Fortunately, a semi-psychic newspaper reporter has a (literally) tingling nose for news, and investigates.  Also, there are dueling agribusiness interests, a hot Denny’s waitress with GMO thrips “larvae” implanted in her abdomen, and shoot outs.  Oh, also pheromones, a 300lb Ukelele player, a corrupt graduate student, and incendiary ladybugs.

Yeah, it’s a bit over the top.

Which is a shame, because had it not had the entire kitchen sink of literary devices tossed into it, it could have developed into a good story.   If only tension had been developed by actual elements of the story, rather than a convenient psychic sense telling the reporter that something bad was going to happen.

Dust, on the other hand, also has a lot going on plot-wise, but holds together better.  It’s name comes from a plague of carnivorous dust mites that (again, literally) eat Long Island.  It has what may be one of my favorite dust cover blurbs:

“They’re dead, I tell you! All the fungus gnats are dead!” screams a famous entomologist just before his protective suit is ripped apart and he’s devoured by millions of vicious mites.”

How could I NOT read this book?  It’s built around a central theme–what would happen if all the insects on earth suddenly and mysteriously disappeared?  A whole bunch of scientific and economic concepts are woven together to make flesh-eating-mite mayhem.  There are some very recognizable characters as well–“Edwin Wilson” the “Ant Man” is clearly modeled on E.O. Wilson (and is the famous entomologist that is eaten alive in that blurb above.)

Unfortunately, this book too suffers from an excess of ideas, and the text often gets bogged down in explaining some of the details. There are a lot of details.   It’s not often that evolutionary biologists and ecologists get to be the stars of a disaster epic, though, so it was worth a read just for plain entertainment value.

I mean, vampire bats become vectors of mad cow disease, which somehow….eventually…. leads to a military captain breaking down in classic Dr. Strangelove style and shelling Hoboken with Thor nuclear missiles. Because he hates Sinatra.  (Best line? “You mutinous dog! You Sinatra-loving sack of shit!“)

Things devolve quickly into a post-apocalyptic world, with desperate attempts to clone pre-historic insects to bring the things back into ecological balance.  This book is alternately horrifying, silly, suspenseful, and turgid.  But if you enjoy trying to guess which of your real world colleagues are the ones being eaten alive by various tiny creatures run amok, you might have a good time with it.