David Koepp and the Biochemical Extinction
From all the different scenarios about the end of the world we have floating around in the realms of fiction, I think few hit as close to home as the ones relating to biochemical phenomena. While other types of apocalypse can at least be seen coming and partially avoided in certain cases, a biological one presents an invisible enemy which can be everywhere at the same time and slip through the tiniest cracks. With biological warfare being a very real thing despite various governments’ attempts at keeping it covert, there is no saying what we will or already have managed to develop. In other words, a biochemical apocalypse is within the scope of our reality, and David Koepp explores it in fascinating detail in his first novel, Cold Storage.
The story begins by introducing us to Roberto Diaz, a bioterror operative for the Pentagon, and his mission decades ago during which he managed to quarantine a highly-mutative and dangerous organism capable of causing an end-of-the-world scenario. After festering for many years in the cold repository of a barely-used military base, the organism has somehow found its way back to the surface, and it certainly seems intent on accomplishing the single goal its entire existence is geared towards: complete extermination.
Roberto Diaz might be fairly old at this point for any kind of adventure, but the gravity of the situation is far from being lost on him, especially since he’s the only one with the knowledge on how to stop this thing. He once again takes up his mantle as a bioterror operative and begins his race across the country to help two security guards, an ex-con and a single mother, put an end to it all. Together, the trio doesn’t have more than one night to vanquish the horror about to lay waste to the entire unsuspecting world.
The Terror of Fungus
With how profoundly we have delved into apocalyptic literature in the past couple of decades, I personally find it difficult to invest myself in such a story the more outlandish the premise. After all, you can only read so many books about the plagues of Egypt coming back or aliens enslaving humanity before the ideas start to feel like eye-rolling cliches. For this reason, the basis of the apocalypse in this book is the first thing which stood out in my eyes: a deadly fungus capable of ravaging living beings. There is an actual scientific basis for this premise, as there exists a fungus capable of controlling ants, aptly-named the “zombie-ant fungus”.
As such, the idea for Koepp’s scenario felt very real and believable, to the point where it’s difficult not to wonder about its implications for our world. Now, with this being said, there are of course elements of fiction in this, as the fungus is actually capable of strategizing and making plans for itself, so not everything is taking place within the confines of our scientific reality.
Nevertheless, the nagging feeling always persists of this existing on our planet in some form, especially accentuated by the author’s periodic dives into scientific territory where he attempts to explain how the fungus works on a more technical level. Now, I will be completely honest with you, I myself am not a biochemist, and thus I can’t exactly vouch for the veracity of the statements made by the author. However, these segments are explained largely in layman’s terms or through simple enough sentences where readers such as myself can absorb them, and all seem to at least fit perfectly into the story’s universe.
The One-Night Marathon
Personally, I feel there is one specific and notable element which comes from Koepp’s tremendous experience as a screenwriter, and it’s the pace of the story. The stakes are clearly set, as is the time limit, giving our characters little to no room for extracurricular activities. The plot remains very focused on the main goal, and no matter what happens we never stop moving towards it. The clock is constantly ticking down on our characters, and frankly this just makes for an intense and exciting read in the sci-fi thriller genre. While part of us knows a happy ending is the likeliest, I felt the author did a good enough job to sow enough doubts to the point of making it pleasantly unpredictable.
Though our characters’ journey is quite a dark one with the highest stakes imaginable, this doesn’t mean the narration’s tone follows suit. As a matter of fact, there are loads of humorous moments inserted here and there, largely stemming from thoughts and interactions our three misfits are having over the course of their trip together. I’ll be honest, at first I feared these moments would feel out of place, but Koepp handles their delivery in a very tasteful and fitting manner, essentially weaving them into the characters’ personalities.
As far as the actual plot and its development goes, Koepp surprised me in the amount of ways he found to spice up the story with some variety. Our protagonists are constantly encountering new challenges and curiosities, whether they be in the form of people or information. It almost feels as if we are exploring some uncharted lands and every step is bound to show us something we haven’t seen before… and the ending even manages to somehow outdo everything which came before it.
The Final Verdict
Cold Storage is an excellent debut novel for David Koepp, with three likeable and interesting protagonists, a premise which hits close to home, a plot always advancing with urgency and a healthy dose of sardonic humour. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a good science-fiction thriller, especially if you enjoy biochemical apocalypse literature.
David Koepp is an American film director, screenwriter and author best-known for his work on Jurassic Park, Carlito’s Way, Mission Impossible and Snake Eyes. He has received the Hugop Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, the Saturn Award for Best Writing as well as the Fantastic’Arts Grand Prize. In 2019 he made his debut as an author publishing his first novel, Cold Storage.