Phase Six: A novel
“Whether Jim Shepard is a prophet or just a great writer with a clever concept, we’ll probably never really know. But if you are seeking a fast-paced, gripping story with dangerous consequences and implications in our lives today, this is your book.”
“The organism that kills too quickly creates a crisis for itself, since it requires a live host, but the effective super-pathogen doesn’t need to spare its host; it just needs to have not burned its bridges before it has crossed them.” —Jim Shepard
In the age of Covid and its variants, Phase Six is completely believable, totally absorbing, and fast-paced. Thematically, author Jim Shepard composes in an extremely concise manner, with few wasted words. His writing is cohesive and succinct, which works very well in a sci-fi novel. Shepard has certainly done his homework. The science is realistic, clear, and well-researched.
This novel brings to life the experiences of a stunning microbial pandemic from beginning to end through the eyes of physicians, researchers, and patients. Author Shepard pulls no punches. With Covid, many of us will never forget how our friends and loved ones took their last breath on a ventilator, bereft of comfort from family, left to suffer mercilessly and to die alone. Phase Six reminds us of this painful experience, yet pushes far beyond by placing the reader in the minds of researchers whose job is to stop a ruthless pandemic.
At first, researchers and scientists believe that this is another strain of virus, like Covid. But with each dead end and failed opportunity, scientists are gradually forced to reconsider. Could it possibly be a bacterium, with the characteristics of a virus?
At just over 200 pages, one wonders if another hundred pages might have delivered a deeper level of character development for the primary protagonists. We yearn to know them better. Shepard pulls and pushes our emotions like a clever puppeteer. Beginning with picturesque Greenland and ending in the United States, this book calls out to us in vivid, emotional terms. Shepard keeps fanning the flames of tension as the reader pushes onward to keep pace.
Coming on the heels of our Covid pandemic, the media scuffles, politics, misinformation, public hostility to quarantine and vaccination, along with the constant undertone of panic—all make this novel seem very familiar. The new territory is living inside the minds of CDC researchers, physicians, and epidemiologists. We clearly see the perpetual danger from our microbial enemies, so small, yet so adaptive to change; it keeps them one step ahead of the confused humans. And Shepard produces all of this without Dr. Fauci.
What’s really special about this novel is that it was mostly written during a time before Covid transformed us medically, scientifically, and emotionally. Speculative fiction becomes real-life, with all of its terrifying consequences. Whether Jim Shepard is a prophet or just a great writer with a clever concept, we’ll probably never really know. But if you are seeking a fast-paced, gripping story with dangerous consequences and implications in our lives today, this is your book.