Monday, July 14, 2014

Review of Isolation by Denise R. Stephenson

Isolation by Denise R. Stephenson is featured as part of a Premier Virtual Authors Book Tours blog tour and is also a part of a Rafflecopter giveaway on the Contests and Giveaways page of this blog.  The novel is set in future apocalyptic America and while it can be categorized as science fiction, the epidemic that it predicts has its roots in all too real events.

The novel opens with a series of vignettes of random strangers who are infected with various bacterial infections, whether from food, contact with insects, or swimming in contaminated waters.  The horrifying headlines of mad cow disease, MRSA, E.Coli and other outbreaks that have scared populations worldwide in recent years, reaches pandemic proportions, killing millions and forcing extreme measures from government to contain the spread of infection.  Martial law, food shortages, looting of stores, and civil unrest break out amid increasing periods of forced quarantines in which all citizens are forced indoors. Touching one's own face becomes illegal as scientists and government officials try to dampen one of the fastest ways that the infections are spread.   Ultimately, the most extreme measures that can possibly be imagined are implemented:  all touch between humans is forbidden and a permanent Outdoor Ban is implemented, meaning that all citizens are forced inside forever, coming out only to go to ABC's-anti-bacterial centers, if they become infected.  The novel's focus narrows as it alternates between third-person accounts of Maggie, a mother who has bound her infant son's hands, and now raised him in a society where he knows no skin-to-skin touch, Gary, a nurse who lost his fiance to the infections and is now a Sterilizer living and working in an ABC, and Trevor, a disturbed young man with OCD traits who works his way up to Chief Enforcer in the new government.  Their stories are interspersed with a first-person narrative from an unnamed former scientist and professor, now living alone in complete isolation since his wife succumbed to the epidemic, and whose philosophical musings provide a voice of morality and reflection about the extreme government actions, as well as the events that led up to the epidemic.

Denise R. Stephenson lives in Oceanside, California, and has lived in all of the isolated locations of the novel at one time or another.  She has published academically, and also as a member of Attention Deficit Drama, where she has written and produced short plays and monologues.  Isolation is her first novel.  To learn more about her, check out the author Q & A on the Author Interviews page of this blog.

Like many good science fiction novels, Isolation poses serious questions and implications for the path that we are headed on in real life.  The spotlight shines brightly on AgriBiz and its use of GMO's in crops and antibiotics in hormones, as major causes for the rises in tainted food supplies and bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotic treatment.  The role of government in limiting the civil liberties of its citizens under the guise of safety is also examined, echoing today's debates about government curtailing freedom in order to protect citizens from terror threats.  One chance encounter and inadvertent touch turn Maggie and Gary's lives upside down as they begin to question what is happening around them and discover deeply buried yearnings for genuine human contact.  Ms. Stephenson achieves the notable goal of making us question modern practices in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and government, without being overly preachy.  The musings of the anonymous professor provide poignant reminders of all we stand to lose as a society if we continue on our current path.  When he reflects on the use of criminals and the poor as Cleaners-the frightening position of cleaning up contaminated corpses, he reflects that even "back in the day" (pre-epidemic), no one would have questioned the practice.  "Some people never did have the rights the rest of us held so dear.  Some have always been expendable".  Readers will be easily moved to tears when he recounts the story of willing giving his cat Ghost a lethal injection because of fear of being contaminated by the animals touch and licks of affection.  Isolation is a disturbing, chillingly realistic portrayal of our potential future that should give us pause in the midst of our daily lives to reflect on what could happen if current trends are left unchecked.  As the professor said, "while we peered up into the heavens, the rug was pulled out from under us, the rug of oats and wheat and sweet grasses, the carpeting of green we lived on".


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed 'Isolation' so much!

  2. Yes, I did! This is a great addition to the sci-fi genre!