The Genius Plague by David Walton

The Genius Plague

What if the pandemic you thought would kill you made you more intelligent instead? In the Amazon jungle, a disease is spreading. To those who survive, it grants enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. But the miracle may be the sinister survival mechanism of a fungal organism, manipulating the infected into serving it. Paul Johns, a mycologist, is convince...

Title:The Genius Plague
Author:
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Edition Language:English

The Genius Plague Reviews

  • Mogsy (MMOGC)

    4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    Mother Nature can be a scary bitch. Forget horror movies; if you ever want to see some truly messed up, freaky bone-chilling stuff, look no further than your BBC nature documentary. Case in point: the “Jungles” episode of Planet Earth. After so many years, that infamous scene of the killer parasitic fungus bursting forth from the back of a dead ant’s head like some kind of grotesque alien worm still gives me the heebie-jee

    4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum

    Mother Nature can be a scary bitch. Forget horror movies; if you ever want to see some truly messed up, freaky bone-chilling stuff, look no further than your BBC nature documentary. Case in point: the “Jungles” episode of Planet Earth. After so many years, that infamous scene of the killer parasitic fungus bursting forth from the back of a dead ant’s head like some kind of grotesque alien worm still gives me the heebie-jeebies—and clearly, I’m not the only one who feels this way. From The Last of Us to The Girl with All the Gifts, a great number of books, movies, and video games have come out in recent years to show us just how screwed humanity would be if we ever went to war with Kingdom Fungi.

    Which was why, when I first found out about the premise of The Genius Plague by David Walton, I was immediately intrigued. After all, like in most of the examples I mentioned above, being infected with a fungal plague usually meant very bad things—like turning into a mindless, slavering zombie, for one. Yet in this case, the fungus actually made you…smarter? This was definitely a new angle for me, and I was curious to see how it would play out.

    We begin this tale deep in the Amazon jungle, where mycologist Paul Johns has just completed a successful scientific expedition and is looking forward to heading home with his samples of mushroom specimens. Shortly after boarding the riverboat that would take him and his group back to civilization, however, they are attacked by a group of men disguised in military uniform, and Paul and another tourist are the only survivors of the horrific massacre. Rescue finally comes after a couple days of trekking through the rainforest, and Paul eventually makes it back home to the United States only to be diagnosed with a lung infection caused by breathing in fungal spores while he was in the jungle—and none too soon. Any longer, and he would have succumbed to the pneumonia and died.

    Meanwhile, Paul’s younger brother Neil has just been hired by the National Security Agency, where their father also used to work before early onset of Alzheimer’s cut his career short. Neil joins a team of code crackers trying to decipher secret messages intercepted from all around the globe, focusing his attention on a series of encrypted communications coming out of the Amazon basin. Rival guerrilla factions are working together when they shouldn’t be, using a language they shouldn’t know, and the implications of this are making the NSA nervous. At home, things have taken a strange turn as well, as Paul, now recovered from his illness, begins showing signs of increased intelligence. It appears that the fungus has altered his brain functioning, improving memory centers and enhancing pattern recognition and communication skills. Excited about what this could mean for the human race, Paul believes that a symbiotic relationship with the fungus is the next step in human evolution, but Neil, a little more circumspect, is not entirely convinced that joining with an unknown organism would be in humanity’s best interest.

    Let’s go back to why nature is so scary, shall we? Nature is scary because, like the fungus in this book, it doesn’t think and it doesn’t have a plan, it simply does what it needs to do to survive. Therefore, we can’t really think of the fungus—or those it infects, for that matter—as a convention villain. To my surprise, it turns out that the idea of a plague making its victims smarter is even more horrifying to me than if it had simply turned all of them into a shambling horde of zombies. Certainly, the scenario put forth in The Genius Plague is much more disconcerting, and the effects of the fungus in the book are much more dangerous. I don’t want to reveal too much more than that for fear of spoilers, but let’s just say that the pathways of this particular pathogen are a lot more insidious than you’d expect, and it gave me chills just thinking about what it does to the human brain.

    I also liked how the book focused on genuinely relatable characters who have to deal with some very real problems and tough personal struggles in their everyday lives, even as the entire world descended into madness around them. The story mainly focuses on Neil, a brilliant but reckless young man who seems to achieve his successes through sheer dumb luck more than anything else. But whatever can be said about his faults, the love for his family is beyond any measure. As mentioned before, Neil and Paul’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, leading to his early retirement from the NSA. Hence, woven into this tale is also an intimate glimpse into a family’s private pain as they watch someone they love decline in memory and mental function, adding an emotional layer to the narrative. Ultimately it leads to some very tough questions and choices for the characters, as more is discovered about the fungus’ effects.

    Gripping and intense, The Genius Plague is a wonderful example of the science fiction-thriller genre done right, combining a well-researched premise with fast-paced action and suspense. We even get a little bit of touching family drama thrown in for good measure. Needless to say, I had a good time with this book, and I can’t wait to read what David Walton writes next.

  • Tammy

    Hugely entertaining, this terrifying vision of what our future could be like will keep you turning pages long after bedtime.

    I loved David Walton’s

    , a fast-paced scientific thriller about time travel and alternate realities, so I knew that

    was going to be a must-read. And wow, did I have fun with this book! When I started reading, I thought the entire story was going to revolve around the genius plague of the title, a fungus that infiltrates h

    Hugely entertaining, this terrifying vision of what our future could be like will keep you turning pages long after bedtime.

    I loved David Walton’s

    , a fast-paced scientific thriller about time travel and alternate realities, so I knew that

    was going to be a must-read. And wow, did I have fun with this book! When I started reading, I thought the entire story was going to revolve around the genius plague of the title, a fungus that infiltrates humans and makes their hosts smarter. But Walton surprised me with a multi-layered story that kept me entertained from start to finish. The author tackles a myriad of subjects such as computer hacking, code breaking, terrorism, government cover-ups, mycology and even Alzheimer's, all of which are brilliantly woven into a cohesive story. He’s also written a cautionary tale about taking care of our planet, or else. This is a fast-paced, exciting read, but it will definitely make you hesitate and think about how we treat our natural resources.

    The story opens as mycologist Paul Johns has just emerged from the Amazon rain forest after successfully foraging for fungi samples. On a tourist boat that will take him back to his hotel for the evening, his world is shattered when a group of men in military uniform stops the boat and ruthlessly shoots every person on board. Paul barely escapes the massacre by jumping over the side and swimming for safety, but his troubles are far from over.

    Meanwhile back home, Paul’s younger brother Neil has just been offered a job with the National Security Agency, where he hopes to follow in his father’s footsteps, analyzing and cracking coded messages from around the world. When he deciphers a code that leads his team to believe that several rival guerilla factions in South America are in contact with each other, some odd connections between the messages and Paul’s near death experience in Brazil begin to emerge.

    Paul is safely back in the states after his harrowing experience, but it turns out he contracted a dangerous fungal infection during his time in Brazil. He laughs it off as part of the life of a mycologist, but Neil isn’t convinced. Little by little, Paul starts exhibiting signs of increased intelligence, like beating Neil at Scrabble and chess (which is highly unusual). Even more worrisome, Paul’s memory has become nearly perfect. He can suddenly recall everything he’s heard or seen, and he’s even able to calculate complex math problems in his head. And that’s not all. As Paul begins to act stranger and stranger, the political unrest in South America starts escalating, and it’s not long before it looks like the U.S. might be drawn into a war. Are these events connected? It’s up to Neil and his team at the NSA to find out—and quick—before all hell breaks loose.

    I’ve read a fair number of novels in the past few years that deal with fungi and mushrooms, and all the horrible things they can do.

    is unique in that the fungi not only enhance the intelligence of their hosts, but they are able to influence their behavior as well. You can imagine what a dangerous idea this is, especially when Walton reveals what it is that the fungus

    (Yes, wants. It wants something. Just think about that for a moment). The fungus of the story—paracoccidioidomycosis—is a real thing, just one of many carefully researched details that make the idea of a mind-controlling fungus unbelievably scary.

    But you can't have a great story without great characters, and there were so many in this book. Because most of the story is told in first person from Neil’s point of view, he basically serves as the main character. And I completely enjoyed hanging out in his head! Neil had some of the funniest scenes in the book. He’s not big on authority, and even though he’s just been hired to work in a super-secret government agency, he tends to break a lot of rules and get in a lot of trouble. Luckily, his brashness is tempered by his boss, a fantastic woman named Melody Muniz. Melody is an older woman and has been working for the NSA for years, and she’s able to get Neil out of trouble more than once. Even better, Melody actually

    Neil for his intelligence and his creative way of solving problems. It was so refreshing to read a story about a smart, older female character and her growing friendship with a smart, younger male.

    And I can’t talk about characters without mentioning Paul’s and Neil’s father Charles, who has Alzheimer’s. I have to admit the second I found out there was a character with the disease, I knew

    what was going to happen to him (and I was right). But obvious plot points aside, the relationship between Charles, Neil and Paul was the emotional core of the story. Neil’s heartbreaking observations of his dad playing Scrabble with him (and losing) showed not only how horrible Alzheimer’s is, but how much Neil loves his father. Charles has quite the interesting character arc in the story, which eventually leads to even more heartbreak, but this wouldn’t have been the same story without him.

    The final quarter of the book is both exciting and terrifying, and I honestly could not figure out how the characters were going to get out of the pickle they were in. The author even introduces a

    threat near the end of the book (as if there weren’t enough already!), which pushed the story into that “over-the-top” territory that David Walton is known for. I wasn’t sure my heart could take all the tension, and just like a thrill ride at an amusement park, the experience was exhilarating, but I did breathe a sigh of relief when events finally sorted themselves out.

    One thing’s for sure:

    will not only entertain, but it will make you think. Walton gives us several plausible scientific scenarios that are certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Highly recommended.

  • Nikki

    Sounds a little bit like The Tommyknockers. Could be fun :)

  • Lilyn G. (Scifi and Scary)

    I read a lot of horror because I like to be scared. Generally, I prefer that fear to be on a ‘not possibly real’ level, hence my love of paranormal horror. When I read science fiction, it’s the opposite. I’m generally hoping for hope and for awesome visions of the future. I’m not expecting to have the, erm, spore scared out of me.

    But David Walton’s The Genius Plague managed to do exactly that.

    The fungi that threatens to the end the world is a fairly common plot device right now. Cordyceps is eve

    I read a lot of horror because I like to be scared. Generally, I prefer that fear to be on a ‘not possibly real’ level, hence my love of paranormal horror. When I read science fiction, it’s the opposite. I’m generally hoping for hope and for awesome visions of the future. I’m not expecting to have the, erm, spore scared out of me.

    But David Walton’s The Genius Plague managed to do exactly that.

    The fungi that threatens to the end the world is a fairly common plot device right now. Cordyceps is everyone’s new favorite villain it would seem. But Walton takes the burgeoning fungi fear, and turns the shambling hordes into geniuses with a common goal. And you know what’s scarier than a bunch of mindless zombies? A bunch of geniuses with a common goal and an excessive urge to be ‘generous’.

    The Genius Plague is a sci-fi thriller that had me mentally shuddering because the possibilities were horrifying. Especially when we start ‘fighting back’. (It’s so hard to write this without spoiling anything!) There were several moments when I would read something, and then just close the book, sit back for a moment and think “Well, crap!” Because I could see it happening. I could see so many aspects of this book happening.

    Also, I have to give the author credit for something. I believe this book is the very first time I’ve ever seen a male author write a male character breaking down. Normally they either man up or do something stupid to not break down. One particular character has a moment where everything hits him, and not only does Walton let it happen, but he writes it in such a way that you instantly think “Well, yeah, of course he’s having problems right now!”

    Well-written, exquisitely paced, and mentally stimulating, The Genius Plague is truly one of those books you must read. It has short chapters, a handful of characters, and drama that hits at your heartstrings if you’ve ever had a loved one with degenerative brain disease. It’s not a book that will blow you away, but it’ll take root in your mind in unexpected ways.

    Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.

  • Katie/Doing Dewey

    This was an incredibly fun, fast-paced read. Very cinematic, would make a great movie.

    "What if the pandemic you thought would kill you made you more intelligent instead? In the Amazon jungle, a disease is spreading. To those who survive, it grants enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. But the miracle may be the sinister survival mechanism of a fungal organism, manipulating the infected into serving it.  Paul Johns, a mycologist, is convinced the fungal host is the nex

    This was an incredibly fun, fast-paced read. Very cinematic, would make a great movie.

    "What if the pandemic you thought would kill you made you more intelligent instead? In the Amazon jungle, a disease is spreading. To those who survive, it grants enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. But the miracle may be the sinister survival mechanism of a fungal organism, manipulating the infected into serving it.  Paul Johns, a mycologist, is convinced the fungal host is the next stage of human evolution, while his brother Neil, an analyst at the NSA, is committed to its destruction. Is the human race the master in this symbiotic relationship, or are we becoming the pawns of a subtly dominating and utterly alien intelligence?" (

    )

    From the moment I started reading this book, it felt like a movie. The detailed descriptions of each scene and the foreshadowing reminded me of starting a disaster movie. As with most disaster movies, whether or not the story would be too ridiculous to be good or not seemed like a toss up. I'm happy to report, this was one of the good ones! The detailed descriptions continued throughout and I loved them. The details of the science, both the mycology and cryptography, were good enough to convince me. The authors apparent knowledge of local geography and cuisine from upstate NY to Brazil really brought the story to life.

    Like any good disaster story, this was a page turner. I hated to put it down! Unlike a lot of sci-fi and spy thrillers I've read, this book also had amazing female characters. The characters whose perspectives we get are both men and they definitely notice women in a sexual way, so I do think we get more physical descriptions of the women. That bothers me in books where women are exclusively portrayed as objects of sexual desire. In this book, however, it was believable that the main character would notice how women looked, but there were women he related to in other ways as well. And although he noticed attractive women, their appearance was never their defining characteristic. They got complete, complex personalities. There were women who excelled athletically and many brilliant women at the NSA, in linguistics, in medicine. Even the main characters' mother was an astrophysicist. The main character related to these women as people and admired several of them as mentors.

    To digress a bit, as I'm writing this review, it strikes me as crazy how notable this is. If many key characters were male, I might notice and be annoyed at it because I’m getting tired of that sort of thing. On the other hand, I might not notice and I would certainly not be surprised. Again, it’s crazy that this is so unusual, but I really enjoyed it.

    Circling back around to the point of this review, this was an awesome, action-packed read. The story was engaging. The description of each scene was detailed and cinematic. The characters were all well-developed, fascinating people. If this isn't made into a movie, I'll be highly disappointed, but at least I have the author's backlist to get to either way!

  • Chandra Claypool (wherethereadergrows)

    Did you know that mushrooms are the sex organs of fungus??

    I've never liked mushrooms. Ever. I think the only way I've ever liked them was when my family in Indiana would go mushroom hunting and then my grandmother would deep fry them to where they basically melted in your mouth.. and I still doused them in ketchup. To eat something called a fungus just didn't compute in my brain and don't even get me started on the texture! So to take something that felt alien to me all my life and make it into

    Did you know that mushrooms are the sex organs of fungus??

    I've never liked mushrooms. Ever. I think the only way I've ever liked them was when my family in Indiana would go mushroom hunting and then my grandmother would deep fry them to where they basically melted in your mouth.. and I still doused them in ketchup. To eat something called a fungus just didn't compute in my brain and don't even get me started on the texture! So to take something that felt alien to me all my life and make it into an infection that literally lives in your brain, lungs, all your body parts, is absolutely frightening. And not altogether unrealistic, which makes it horrifying and delicious to read!

    I've learned more about mushrooms/fungus and ways to decode things than I thought I ever would. For someone who has a large love for all things science and solving puzzles, this brought these two things together and I loved every part of it! The relationships between sons and father was a pleasure to read. Neil especially as he's the main protagonist. Him and his father would solve puzzles together, play scrabble and otherwise constantly massage each other's brains with cryptic messages, etc. This reminded me of when I was in high school and my boyfriend and I at the time used to write each other notes in Dethek, a Dwarven script. Yes, I'm THAT much of a nerd. I left a note somewhere around the house and my Dad broke the code and I remember him just being so happy he "still had it" even as he's apologizing for violating my privacy. Haha. Anyways, it sometimes felt like family reading about the Johns.

    The bringing together of the worlds with the fungal infection, NSA and the fight to try and save the immense amount of humans infected was extremely well done. Detailed explanations of how this all could happen made it altogether frightening. Nothing scares me more than plausibility. There are still a million things in this world we are unaware of and biology (my favorite subject in high school) shows that organisms will adapt and thrive to stay alive.

    Basically, if you love all things science and puzzly, then you will absolutely love this book. I was a little underwhelmed with the ending only because it seemed just to happen to fast and almost too neatly... but still leaves room for you to wonder what will happen next. I remember thinking... wait, that's it?? So half star deduction for that. Otherwise, I enjoyed this way more than I expected to going in and isn't that always a win as a reader?

    4 1/2 stars rounded to 5 for goodreads.

    Thanks so much to Pyr / Prometheus Books for this copy!

  • David

    Yes, I am giving my own book five stars! If I don't think the book is awesome, why would anyone else want to give it a try?

  • Jim Lay

    A smart, action-packed, techno-thriller about a fungus that increases intelligence and cooperation in the humans it has infected. The urge to protect itself and spread, turns its hosts into calculating militants willing to turn traitors on their friends and governments to ensure the survival of the fungus.

    Although the premise sounds scary, this is more of a Tom Clancy/Michael Crichton/Robin Cook type thriller. Entertaining and thought provoking but not quite what I was expecting.

  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    The concept of this SF novel sounds so fascinating, and there's a giveaway going on right now

    . Right now your chances of winning a copy are like 3 in 10, so go for it if you're interested! I'd do it if I could.

  • Helen French

    Plague fiction is a surprisingly wide genre, ranging from everyone's dying in gruesome ways, horror horror, to the plague's killed everyone off, how do we regroup, to let's investigate wtf this thing is and stop it before everyone's dead.

    Personally, I like options 2 and 3 the best, and this book fits nicely into category 3, which means it's quite heavy on the science and explanation. Step away if you don't like hard SF! Actually it's quite accessible, but you will learn a lot about mycology - ak

    Plague fiction is a surprisingly wide genre, ranging from everyone's dying in gruesome ways, horror horror, to the plague's killed everyone off, how do we regroup, to let's investigate wtf this thing is and stop it before everyone's dead.

    Personally, I like options 2 and 3 the best, and this book fits nicely into category 3, which means it's quite heavy on the science and explanation. Step away if you don't like hard SF! Actually it's quite accessible, but you will learn a lot about mycology - aka the study of fungi.

    That's right, this plague is caused by a fungus that aims to get into your brain and seize control. Eeep.

    It begins with Paul the mycologist, exploring the Amazon, until he's attacked by guerrillas. By the time he's back in the US, he's suffering with a severe lung infection.

    His younger brother Neil is the main character here. He becomes an NSA agent, joining a team of code crackers. Whilst they monitor strange activity coming from the Amazon region, he's also also concerned that his brother starts to become more intelligent - attributing it to the fungal infection now raging inside him. The storylines converge, gradually becoming more terrifying. The fungus is spreading quickly, and the people infected will do anything to help it spread, even if humanity has to die along the way.

    There's also a sad (but interesting) parallel story about the brothers' father, who has Alzheimer's. Ultimately, much of the book is about who we are, how much of us is determined by what we want, what we remember, why we act the way we do.

    I began this book late last night and stayed up until 1am reading, when I had to admit defeat and go to bed. But I'd finished it by 9am today. I really, really like plague books. 4.5 stars for me.

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