Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Aria: Left Luggage
by Geoff Nelder
ISBN-13: 978-1905091959, Aug 2012, 305 pages
The year is 2015, and three astronauts on the shuttle Marimar have found a silver case. The case has an interesting soft holographic chevron design on the outside, placed on the shuttle in such a way that it requires human intent to move it. The case is collected and brought to Earth, where it’s opened by a gung-ho technician, but before anyone can work out what the meaning of the solid glowing blocks of green-lilac mean, people begin getting headaches that rapidly progress into serious amnesia. This is the start of ARIA: Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia, a condition that spreads so quickly that before long, all public services stop, shops are abandoned, medical establishments are empty and general apocalyptic chaos becomes the result.
Only a few people remain uninfected – Ryder Nape being one of them. He gets together with his friends Brownwyn and Brian and a few others in a remote village in Wales, where they’re able to protect themselves with ammunition and seclusion in the hopes of finding some kind of cure. They are able to contact the space station whose inhabitants also remain uninfected, but when a second case is deposited there, the survivors have to make a judgement call about whether the alien race leaving the cases is friend or foe, and make choices that could either save, or end the human race.
ARIA: Left Luggage is a well-written novel with the pace and suspense of a video game (BioShock immediately comes to mind). The balance between character development and plot progression is managed smoothly, along with the thematics, which take the reader through a series of all-too-believable scenarios, chillingly showing how easy it would be for an advanced group of aliens to undermine the human race and have us destroy one another, without the need for any additional weapons or warfare. Of course they may be out to save us from ourselves.
There is plenty of alternative action beyond the obvious one around the virus and its impact. There are flirtations and love interests between the surviving group – especially Ryder and one of the astronauts Jena, who arrives back on earth with the case. One of the more fascinating characters is the racy Italian Antonio, who bravely volunteers to be the first to open the second case. Other synergies form amidst the chaos between Manuel, the first person to get the virus, and “Jat”, a woman who he meets while trying to gather supplies. There are plenty of surprises along the way as people use their electronic “NoteComs” in an effort to hold on to a semblance of reality in the face of a rapidly disappearing past.
In typical Nelder style, there is black humour throughout the book, with more than a hint of camp as the virus progresses, and lots of fun as the plot unfolds. There are also some serious philosophical questions raised about human nature and ecology, which becomes particularly poignant at one point when Ryder is admiring the Rockie Mountains:
They had the look of the immutable for millions of years, give or take glacial erosion and the occasional earth movement. ARIA took Man away and allowed Mother Nature to start recovering.
The book is only part one of what looks like being a two part series, and is enticingly ambiguous about the cases, the two viruses – ARIA 1 and 2, and about the ultimate fate of Ryder, Jenna, Manuel, “Jat”, and the human race itself. I’m afraid it will be very difficult for readers to part one without coming back for part two ARIA: Returning Left Luggage. ARIA: Left Luggage mingles the most optimistic calculations from the Drake Equation with a distopian outcome, creating a read that is as intriguing as it is fun.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow, Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.
Article first published as Book Review: ARIA: Left Luggage by Geoff Nelder on Blogcritics.