Cold Storage by David Koepp (book review).

September 3, 2019 | By | 1 Reply More

There was quite a bit of a press release accompanying the link to the ebook version of this debut book by David Koepp. Apparently, he was the screenwriter for ‘Jurassic Park’. I think he will be remembered more for his involvement with ‘Jurassic Park’ than the author of ‘Cold Storage’. The release said it would be available in September, but I see it’s on sale now.

This book should really be a success as it has all the elements required. There is a secretive Pentagon Bioterror unit. There is a fungus with the potential to wipe out anything it can touch and then there is the usual Government ineptitude that makes sure the fungus gets a helping hand. What could possibly go wrong? The fungus. The problem with this story is the fungus but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Just before the story starts, we have a prologue where we learn about the honey fungus Armillaria solidipes. A specimen in the Blue Mountains in Oregon is thought to be the biggest single living organism on planet Earth. While its benign to most things, its lethal to herbaceous trees, bushes or plants. It’s also spreading at a rate of about 30cm to a metre per year. The author notes that if it could go any faster it would probably wipe out most of the botanic life on Earth.

To set the scene we’re told that some bright spark decided to send a sample of a particularly adaptive fungus up to the American Skylab space station to see how it got on while being exposed to the extremes of a low Earth orbit. For those who don’t remember Skylab, it was the first American attempt at a space station and it basically eventually fell back to Earth. Some bits burned up in the atmosphere, some fell into the Indian Ocean. Some bits managed to hit Weston Australia.

The story begins with two Bioterror operatives accompanying a scientist to a rural Australian town. In the UK, we would have said it was a small village but, in Australia, it’s a town and was the unlucky recipient of a bit of debris from Skylab. Yes it’s the bit with the fungus in it which also seems to be just a little peeved at being bottled up and generally maltreated. Although its the being bottled up bit that really annoys it.

Now how can a fungus be annoyed? This brings me onto my big issue with this book. The fungus could only be described as sentient and very, very knowledgeable. It also seems to know an awful lot about its environment. For example, one of the trio sent to Australia to deal with the incident is unlucky enough to stand on the fungus. It then decides to eat its way through the sole of the boot to get to the nice tasty bit inside. How did it know there was a nice tasty bit inside the boot?

That question is just one of quite a few questions that largely go unanswered. For example, if a portion of the fungus gets separated from the main body, it seems to retain all the knowledge and abilities of the parent fungus. Now that it’s in a slightly different environment the offspring develop different traits at a rather alarming rate. How is any of this possible? It assumes the fungus is intelligent and has a purpose.

By the way, I’m intentionally not naming the characters here as most of them die quite horribly. Knowing who, if anyone, survives to the end would be a spoiler.

Anyway, back to the story. The fungus is contained and a sample is sent back to the USA for cold storage in a military bunker. By the way, this all takes place towards the end of the last century. Moving onto more current times the Bioterrorist members have retired and the defense department decided it didn’t need the bunker and sold it off to a storage company. The company refurbished the place and now offer storage facilities to the public. Of course, some bits of the bunker were just boarded over and left as it was and it’s in one of these forgotten areas that the fungus in its cold storage container resides.

It’s not exactly clear how the fungus was left behind when the Government vacated the bunker but add this to the unanswered questions list. While things are developing underground, the fungus makes an appearance above ground, too. It infects a cat and a deer which have largely been shot to pieces by a near-do-well. I’m not going to mention the character’s name as there’s not much point. Very few last very long. What I could not work out was how the fungus had appeared above ground.

What was even more questionable, though, was how it managed to re-animate what are essentially dead corpses and get them to run about. Things are getting close to zombie territory here and becoming less and less credible as we progress. Yes, I know about artistic license, but this is taking the proverbial.

Coming back to the story again, the two survivors of the Australian jaunt are on hand to go ‘black ops’ and deal with the fungus once and for all. Actually, it’s only one of the duo as time has not been kind to one of the veterans and they are unable to continue. Enlisting the help of two of the storage facilities workers, our veteran uses somewhat unorthodox measures to try and contain the fungus. These measures have not been approved by his commanding officers.

Our lone veteran hero doesn’t care about being unorthodox and acting without approval. He’s not the only one neither as I didn’t care neither. The three characters working to contain the fungus are interesting but rather stereotyped. There wasn’t a wealth of redeeming features about them to get you cheering them on.

The ending, when it came, left a lot of unanswered questions. Not all bits of the fungus were accounted for as far as I can tell so there might be a sequel. I do hope not. Apart from the unanswered questions, the author has a tendency to go into extreme detail on a subject or random event which is at best tangential to the main story. This makes it an unwelcome intrusion into the plot.

I really, really hate giving a book a poor review as I appreciate the efforts of the authors and editors to get the thing produced in the first place. However, I think this one should have been left in cold storage. A bit like the fungus really.

Andy Whitaker

July 2019

(pub: Ecco/HarperCollins, USA. 320 page hardback. Price: $27.99 (US), £12.99 (US). ISBN: 978-0-06291-643-3

pub: HarperCollins, UK. 308 page paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-00833-450-5)

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Category: Books, MEDIA

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About AndyWhitaker

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties.

My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

Comments (1)

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  1. DMcCunney says:

    “There was quite a bit of a press release accompanying the link to the ebook version of this debut book by David Koepp. Apparently, he was the screenwriter for ‘Jurassic Park’.

    “Screenwriter for ‘Jurassic Park” should be your takeaway. None of the negatives you see will likely matter to someone who intends to make a *film* of the book, and I’m pretty sure “being optioned for film” was a goal (as well as possibly writing the screenplay for the film if it gets produced.

    This publication sounds a lot like an extended film pitch. It wouldn’t surprise me if it succeeds in that aim.

    It’s not something I am likely to *read*.

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