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The Consciousness Plague, a novel by Paul Levinson, Tor Books, March 2002, 320 pp. hardcover, $24.95 ISBN 0765300982

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It's flu season again, and although the current strain is not lethal, such as the one in 1918, it's still a nasty one. People all across the nation are catching the bug. Dr. Phil D'Amato, NYPD forensic detective, really doesn't have the time to get sick. He's busy with a new murder case: a young blonde woman has been found dead near Riverside Drive. Additionally, Jack Dugan, one of the police brass, wants Phil to head up a new task force to study "strange" cases. D'Amato, who's not sure he's cut out to be an administrator, asks for time to think the offer over. The next day Dugan is out of work—home sick with the flu, his secretary says.

Phil's girlfriend, Jenna, has also been ill. She credits her quick recovery to a new drug, Omnin. Celebrating her return to health, Phil takes her out to dinner. It's a romantic evening, and Phil proposes to her. Jenna happily accepts.

Feeling that his life is heading in a positive direction, Phil decides that he is ready for new responsibilities in other areas, as well. The next day he goes to see Jack Dugan intending to accept the task force offer.

But Dugan only stares blankly at him. "I haven't the vaguest idea what you're talking about," he says.

Worse, Jenna has no memory whatsoever of Phil's proposal.

Then Phil learns that the police officer who discovered the Riverside Drive murder victim now has no memory of having done so…

That's more than enough to start Phil wondering. Is memory loss a component of this new flu? Is it somehow being caused by the use of Omnin? The problem is, how would a patient know he or she had lost chunks of memory unless something important had happened during that time?

It's a good beginning to this well-constructed sf/mystery novel, Levinson's second. The Consciousness Plague kept my attention throughout. Levinson does a good job of keeping things moving. His characters are well-drawn and distinct from one another, and his idea of a brain-resident virus that facilitates consciousness is interesting and timely.

Paul Levinson, a former president of the Science Fiction Writers of America, has joined the ranks of sf writers such as Isaac Asimov (The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun), who blend mystery with their science fiction. He's not ready to take up the Master's mantle quite yet, but if he keeps developing his themes, who can say?


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