Charles Pellegrino,
(Avon, 1998)

Dust is a very good but frustrating book; it's compelling, intelligent and well plotted but, boy, it really needed a heavy-handed editor to insist that author Charles Pellegrino delete a bunch of words. As an example of what could easily have been omitted: near the beginning of the book is a sequence explaining that, as a girl grows up, her relationship to her father goes through stages. We didn't need a description of every one of the 11 stages that Pellegrino envisions. It simply bogs down the story.

Thankfully, I found this problematic aspect of Dust let up considerably about a third of the way through the novel. And I'm really glad I stuck with the book. It's packed with cleverly integrated scientific concepts that are woven beautifully into a high-intensity plot, a plot that only near the end of the book seems to get away from Pellegrino's control. An impressive feat for a debut novel and one that makes me anxious to read more from this highly qualified science fiction author.

Pellegrino is described at the end of the book as a "scientific gadfly," an astrobiologist, underwater archaeologist and inventor of such ideas as a practical interstellar space probe and a method of genetically duplicating dinosaurs. He draws upon his wide-ranging expertise and the research of colleagues in numerous other fields (from entomology to economics) to craft an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it story in which the fragility of our society rings alarmingly true.

The big "what if" in Dust has to do with the disappearance of a few insect species. Pellegrino's reasons behind the vanishing of the creepy crawlers are compelling, and he follows through with an ecological and societal collapse that is truly terrifying. Who knew that ants and bees could trigger a global economic meltdown? But sure enough, when mites and fungus begin destroying crops worldwide, when entire nations begin to starve, when bats begin spreading deadly disease to humans, when the stock market begins to tumble, Pellegrino very convincingly points the finger at a few tiny, but critical, bugs.

Dust contains some nicely constructed, complex characters, particularly among Pellegrino's good guys. Dr. Richard Sinclair may wear the white hat in this tale but it's a hat with some interesting stains and tatters. Sinclair's 9-year-old daughter Tam is a wonderful inclusion in the story because it's primarily in his interaction with her that Sinclair's flaws are revealed.

Only in Sinclair's primary adversary, Jerry Sigmond, does Pellegrino allow himself to fall into easy cliches. Sigmond has virtually no redeeming qualities; he's far too easy to despise completely, and that's a shame because a more sympathetic villain would have made this book even more compelling. As it stands I highly recommend Dust as a somewhat flawed but extremely thought-provoking read from an author with a ton of potential.

[ by Gregg Thurlbeck ]
Rambles: 2 November 2002

Buy it from