Imagine that Israel has developed a biological weapon capable of causing horrific mass genocide with a higher body count than the world has ever encountered. Under what circumstances could Israel possibly decide to use this heinous weapon and commit an atrocity at least as awful as the Holocaust?
Set in the relatively near future, 2028, Levy begins with a frighteningly realistic scenario: a “nuclear Iran” has brought the world to the brink of World War III, as an Iranian plot to attack Israel and the United States has been uncovered. The threat of world-ending nuclear strikes and counter-strikes is imminent. Meanwhile, Israeli scientists have cracked a problem they’ve been trying to solve for years, creating a cutting edge biological weapon that can target a particular race of people — in this case the population of the entire Arab world. Not just kill them; the weapon would dissolve their bodies of anyone with Arabic genes. The Israeli government now has a decision to make: use the weapon or risk their own annihilation.
While this premise may seem a bit hokey, like in all well-realized science fiction, Levy does a fine job of convincing the reader that not only could such a scenario happen, but it’s already happening. Within just a few pages he masterfully makes us accept that this technology exists, and that the entire Israeli population could be inoculated with a vaccine while the disease itself dies off in 28 days and can’t mutate. Once Levy gets us to buy in to the big plot points, he gets down to the crux of the narrative, the many intriguing moral questions that this situation brings to the forefront. For example, if the enemy’s intention is to destroy Israel, if it’s a forgone conclusion, is it amoral to commit genocide by striking first? It’s truly terrifying and disturbing how, within the context of the arguments the characters present, Levy ultimately makes readers complicit with the seemingly unthinkable, which forces us to ponder how atrocities actually happen.
Levy, who passed away suddenly in July, worked in the automotive and healthcare industries, but he was passionate about political issues. Recently, he blogged and wrote about his concerns about Iran obtaining, and using, nuclear weapons. His passion for foreign affair issues is quite apparent in this book, as these sections are particularly detailed and believable. There are many scenes in war rooms and long dialogues with world leaders that feel realistic and convincing.
Overall, Levy seems more concerned with telling the big story than the little stories. While there are some great character-driven scenes, there really isn’t a main character for readers to latch on to and feel emotionally involved with. While this would be a flaw in some novels, here it seems to be a choice Levy has made. It’s apparent that he doesn’t want the characters to get in the way of his biggest theme — the tenuous fate of the world.
This isn’t a book for the squeamish. The subject matter is disturbing and there is occasional graphic violence — one interrogation scene is particularly brutal. The violence never feels gratuitous, though. Although this is a science fiction thriller, Levy is a realist at heart, and as we race toward the thrilling conclusion, this excellent of-the-moment thriller leaves us with the unsettling feeling that reality may be more terrifying than fiction.