Charles Pellegrino
Dust (1998)
Reviewed: 2000-01-06

After the genuinely frightening experience of The Killing Star, Pellegrino sets out to scare the reader with a solo novel. And though I wasn't shivering in terror, this book is bound to get under your skin. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return.

Dust is an eco-catastrophe thriller. No, hang on. This is no mumbojumbo of Green rhetorics. No matter what the dust jacket of some editions may claim, Mother Nature doesn't take revenge on us or such nonsense. The truth is more terrifying: Earth doesn't care. And if you didn't know yet, well, that's one of the points Pellegrino tries to bring across. Despite its frequent slide into Hollywoodian melodramatics and silliness, Pellegrino clearly intends to stay on the realistic side of the fence.

The novel is set in the immediate future. "Notepads", small portable devices with handwriting recognition, computer-TV-phone in one gadget, are ubiquitous, computer memory capacities have increased, and there's a successful space station. Could be tomorrow. What would happen to this world if a major link of terrestrial ecology was taken out? The first changes go unnoticed. Then the plagues start to appear. Swarms of carnivorous "motes" that eat people down to the bones. Fungus infections destroying crops. The animals start dying. Rivers running red. Visions of plagues like those described in the Bible's Book of Exodus. As the ecology collapses, so does the economy and in its wake human civilization. The outlook presented in this book is very bleak. If you accept the initial premise, the subsequent events are horribly plausible.

Pellegrino isn't particular successful in fleshing out the characters, of which there are many, some quite short-lived. But then, this is not the books' focus. Several characters in the novel carry the name of real, contemporary scientists and appear to be actually based on them. One Richard "Tuna" Sinclair seems to be a thin disguise for the author himself, and Pellegrino indulges in two of his perennial favorites, DNA from insects in amber and life in subsurface oceans on the moons of Jovian planets.

Just like in The Killing Star, an appendix "Reality Check" is included, where the author explains which parts of the novel are fact, and which are speculative or entirely fictitious. Some you might have guessed wrong.

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