Review of The Second Cure by Margaret Morgan

Title:  The Second Cure

Author: Margaret Morgan

Reviewer: Carleton Chinner

Synopsis: Control the brain and you control the world.

In a fractured nation, two women are left with a choice – risk it all to bring humanity together or let it fall apart.

A pandemic is racing through our world, changing people subtly but irrevocably. The first sign for some is losing their faith. For others it comes as violent outpourings of creativity, reckless driving and seeing visions.

Scientist Charlotte Zinn is close to a cure when her partner becomes infected. Overnight her understanding of the disease is turned upside down. Should she change the path of evolution?

As Australia is torn apart, reporter Brigid Bayliss is determined to uncover the dark truth behind the religious response to the outbreak.

Brigid and Charlotte find themselves on the frontline of a world splintering into far left and far right, with unexpected power to change the course of history. But at what cost?

Dark, thrilling and compulsively readable, The Second Cure is a provocative debut novel about control, courage and belief.

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Review: The Second Cure is easily the most chillingly plausible book I have read all year. Take a common disease that occurs in pets and mutate it into something much stranger. A disease that brings gifts along with its symptoms. This has been the fodder for some great science fiction in recent years and this book is no exception.

Morgan has no fear of controversy and dives straight into the world of sufferers who embrace their disease reminiscent of the way Pro-ana believers idolise anorexia. Musicians and artists embrace newfound heights of creativity that know no limits and quickly descend into sexual frenzy. Scientists without a shred of compassion for people who are different describe humans as ‘just an electrical storm perched precariously on top of a bag of bacteria.’ At the same time an opposing group of fundamentalist religious nuts, plays to old Queensland stereotypes in a frightening echo of recent political history.

Jam such diametrically opposed viewpoints together and you have a setting that is ripe for conflict and the examination of morally ambiguous outcomes. This is makes for great science fiction as the story explores the rights and wrongs of unleashing a new technology on the world. I love such stories as they give me a chance to think about the current state of the world. Unfortunately, Morgan takes clear sides in these ethical dilemmas using an excess of deliberate social commentary that does not give the reader sufficient space to form their own opinion.

The bulk of the book is set in a near future of self-driving cars and automated homes where grieving pet owners can have their departed pet preserved as an animatronic mount that follows them with adoring eyes. A future that is frighteningly believable because most elements already exist.

The main characters are instantly likeable and sufficiently well-drawn to be believable in their occasionally extreme actions. Charlie’s love triangle between her infected lover Richard and her fellow researcher Shadrack adds a further dimension to an already enjoyable plot. Brigid is everything you could want from a reporter, committed, gutsy, and too inquisitive for her own good. However, it is in the supporting characters that Morgan really shines. Winnie’s doubts in the face of her failing belief make such compelling reading that I was disappointed by her sudden exit from the story. Tricia, likewise, presents as a straightforward character who become so much more, treading a fine line that builds delightful suspense.

The second half of the book poses an extremely daunting question: should humanity be mass medicated for its own good? I felt that the ethical considerations of this decision were glossed over in the rush to finish the story. This leads to scientists who make decisions with as much faith as religious zealots. The short epilogue that follows feels as if it has been added almost an afterthought. This is a pity as it contains a fascinating premise about a new society that could have been further explored.

The Second Cure is a solid debut by a talented writer. I look forward to reading more from Margaret Morgan.

Four Stars

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