Spoiler alert! This review reveals significant plot details.
Aliens are invading Earth, spreading seeds that germinate on the human body and develop into blue Triangles. These Triangles then hatch into tentacle-borne pyramids that will build an interstellar gate to let the aliens cross the vast distance between Earth and wherever it is they live. They were stopped once before. Now their agents on Earth are trying again, and again, modifying tactics each time. And it's clear that the Triangles alone won't be enough—they need protection in the form of contagious hosts, vectors for a new version of this infection. Contagious is a book in which your most outrageous nightmares have already come true and are about to get even worse.
Much of what I said about Infected applies to Contagious. These books are so similar and work so well together that, once the final book in the trilogy is out, this series is ripe for an omnibus edition. I have no idea when the third book will be released. Fortunately, Contagious does not suffer the effects of "middle book syndrome." Those who haven't read Infected will miss out on the enjoyable experience of reading the book, but Contagious quickly brings the reader up to speed on everything pertaining to the story. Also, it delivers a satisfying ending that ties off every major plot point save one, thus leaving an opening for the third book.
Contagious has all of Infected's attitude but has improved on some of its flaws. That's not to say it's perfect. In fact, while I tolerated the narrator's tone in Infected, I found myself rolling my eyes quite a bit this time around. Sigler uses a limited omniscient narrator, which is great for giving each character a distinct voice. The only problem is that he gives every character the same voice. . . . Everyone sounds like a disrespectful, anti-authoritarian "sonofabitch" (to borrow the Triangles' name for Perry Dawsey) who's free with the expletives. The only exception to the rule is Chelsea, who starts off as a normal seven-year-old and eventually becomes the uber-leader of the aliens. Sigler's attempts at portraying Chelsea as precocious and simplifying her view of the world grated on me, and the new improved alien-overlord version of Chelsea isn't any better.
Most of the characters continue to function as straw men than people. More supporting characters appear, including a newly-inaugurated president and his Chief of Staff, the idealistic Vanessa Colbourn. Her only role appears to be to provide resistance to the Cold War, hardline tactics of Murray Longworth. Together, the two of them function as the "angel and devil" on the shoulders of President Gutierrez, who wasn't really expecting to have to deal with a domestic crisis so early in his presidential career. Vanessa usually speaks up to disagree with Murray. Other characters, like Marcus, Gitsh, and "Dr. Dan," serve similar roles in other areas of the plot. I get the sense that Sigler is trying to explore the ramifications of the moral choices that he has his characters make—which is admirable, except that the ramifications never really surface. After the explosive climax, there's a terse epilogue. Maybe we'll see some more consequences in the next book, but I won't hold my breath.
Thankfully, if the characters have not much improved in Contagious, their relationships have. I won't comment on Margaret and Clarence … because there are some better examples, most notably the bond between Dew and Perry. At Margaret and Murray's urgings, Dew tries to bond with Perry in order to convince the former Triangle host to stop killing other infected people. This relationship is also crucial to the most compelling aspect of both Infected and Contagious: Perry Dawsey's battle to reclaim his humanity.
In Infected, Perry's primary struggle is for control over his body and mind with the parasites growing inside him. These are gone by the second book, but Perry can still communicate with them thanks to the mesh of fibres left in his brain. They still try to drive him to kill, but thanks to Dew, he demonstrates that he is more in control now. No, now Perry must deal with the guilt over what he did while under the influence of the Triangles, including the murder of his friend Bill. I say that this is the most compelling part of the series because it's the most real and the most significant theme. There's nothing simple about Perry's situation. There are no easy answers. Although few, if any of us, know what it's like to be infected by alien parasites, we can still empathize with Perry's struggle against what seems like insurmountable forces bent on preventing him from choosing his own path in life.
I loved what more we learned about the alien aggressors. Firstly, we meet the Orbital, the interstellar craft sent by a species bent on colonizing Earth and converting humans into slave labour. The Orbital is just a machine following a complex program designed to maximize the probability of taking over a planet. It's wonderful. And Sigler builds the mythology of his universe well, explaining why the aliens are building wormhole gates instead of travelling to Earth in spaceships. There's little exposition, which fits nicely with the fast-paced atmosphere of the book.
If this were a movie, its special effects budget would be on steroids. I mean, the protagonists drop a nuclear bomb on Detroit! It doesn't get much more audacious than that. Hopefully we'll see the fallout (pun intended) of that action in more detail in the third book, as I've already mentioned that Contagious provides a spare conclusion. Beyond this complaint, I can't find fault with much else when it comes to pacing and action scenes. There's less gore (which I appreciate) but still a good deal of squick (burnt bodies, skin sloughing off faces and hands, etc.). In a true moment of horror and tragedy, Amos dies, something I actually regret. But what is up with all the deaths at the end of the book? Were they just to make Clarence and Margaret the only survivors? It certainly wasn't a measure required to increase the body count….
Scott Sigler has both talent and room for improvement. I enjoyed his books, but they're definitely for a distinct audience. If you liked Infected, you'll like Contagious. If the former didn't interest you, I don't see why the latter will. Aliens, Triangles, and tactical nukes … oh my!