David Walton’s THE GENIUS PLAGUE is about a fungal infection that grants its victims superior intelligence but also an overwhelming desire to protect and advance its parasite’s survival. This is a fantastic read that delivers on almost every level, including technical excellence, a sweeping scale that always feels local, and big ideas.
The story focuses on two men, Paul and Neil Johns. Paul, a mycologist, becomes infected while studying fungi in the Amazon. Neil, his brother, has just started a job at the National Security Agency. Neil, our protagonist, is brilliant but a screw-up, hired by a manager at the NSA who sees plenty of use for his out-of-the-box way of thinking. When he stumbles upon a strange new form of communication among people living along the Amazon, a vast conspiracy is uncovered, one that threatens South America, then the United States, and ultimately the world.
Are the infected in control of themselves and benefiting from their symbiotic relationship with the fungus, or are gradually evolving into creatures without individuality? Is the ecologically sustainable, utopian world they offer worth the price? And can they be stopped?
THE GENIUS PLAGUE is a meaty read packed with good characterization, snappy dialogue, excellent pacing, and plenty of surprises. I really enjoyed it and highly recommend it.