Book Review: The Coming Storm by Mark Alpert
By Dave RichardsJanuary 7, 2019
In The Coming Storm by Mark Alpert, America is on the brink of collapse and devastated by a brutal government trying to silence its citizens.
Crime fiction often explores the reasons why people break the laws that govern human behavior. What would happen though if science changed the definition of what it meant to be human? Would the old laws apply to this new species of “posthumans?” What sort of ethics should guide the scientists creating them? And what happens when genetic alterations become a weapon to advance the agendas of the vicious and power hungry?
These are all questions that fuel Mark Alpert’s compelling and exciting new thriller, The Coming Storm, which is set in a dystopian future world. What makes the novel especially chilling is it’s not set in the far future. It takes place only four years from now in 2023, and the vision it presents is very possible. That’s because Alpert’s novel is set in a New York City that’s been ravaged by climate change and an out of control kleptocratic government that enforces its will through the use of a federally sanctioned paramilitary force known as the FSU. Several members of the FSU are genetically engineered and violently psychotic super soldiers, like Lieutenant Frazier who oversees operations in the part of Brooklyn that has become a walled-off ghetto.
The reporter’s eyes widened. “You can’t do that! You don’t have . . .” He clenched his hands, fighting his own fear. “You’re required by law to contact the New York Police Department when—”
Frazier interrupted him by breaking his arm. All he had to do was yank Keating’s elbow backward, and the bones in his forearm snapped like pretzels. It happened so fast and took such little effort. The reporter dropped to his knees and started screaming.
Our guide through this nightmarish world is a Pakistani-American woman named Jenna Khan. At first glance, she seems like a normal person who has the same concerns we all do; protecting her elderly father and very sick brother, from the predations of a violent and corrupt world. When we first meet Jenna and her family they’re caught up in an FSU raid. That raid is foiled by another super soldier named Derek Powell who believes Jenna can undo the experiments that amplified his physical and mental abilities, but which are also killing him.
Powell chose Jenna because she’s a scientist whose experiments with a gene-altering virus helped launch the government’s secret super soldier program. And in another less interesting novel he would have become the focus of the story, but I’m happy to report that Jenna is Alpert’s chief protagonist in The Coming Storm and that’s part of the reason why the book is so enjoyable.
As Jenna crosses New York and tries to overcome and bring down the powerful and corrupt forces laying siege to America she grows and changes. She confronts the reasons why she became involved in a genetic engineering program. She also becomes more capable and cunning, but her moral compass never wavers. That made her a fun and identifiable character to follow and root for.
From the start, the driving force for Jenna had been sheer scientific greed. She’d wanted to explore and comprehend everything. She couldn’t stand the thought that Nature was keeping secrets from her, maybe because she was so angry at Nature for killing her mother and crippling her brother. So she’d devoted her life to extracting those secrets. It was a special kind of revenge. Nothing else mattered.
Jenna’s moral and physical journey takes her across New York. From the way Alpert writes about the Big Apple it’s clear he’s either a resident or has a lot of love for the town. Readers are given a guided tour of the city that includes landmarks like Rikers Island Prison and Cony Island, lesser-known locales like Randall’s Island, and the many diverse neighborhoods that make up New York’s five boroughs. The city is almost a supporting character which gives the novel even more poignancy. You witness first hand the damage that humanity has done to one of the world’s greatest cities.
The pacing in The Coming Storm is breakneck, which makes for a fun and exciting narrative. It’s full of daring escapes and impossible odds. So assisting Jenna in her quest are a number of friendly faces. I don’t want to mention any of those characters by name because I feel like it would spoil some of the twists. I will say that many of them are very likable and memorable people even the ones you only get to spend a short amount of time with.
The people hunting Jenna and hurting those who aid her in The Coming Storm are an eclectic cast of power-mad, vicious, and self-absorbed villains. Some of these nefarious figures are named. Some are not, such as the U.S. President, who seems to be inspired by the machinations of real-world politicians.
The same thing had happened at nearly every rally during the reelection campaign; in fact, the protests in 2020 were so predictable that the president had actually looked forward to them. He used to taunt the protesters and encourage the rest of the crowd to attack them. It was all part of the show.
Alpert is clearly upset about what he sees going on in the world. He used that anger to create The Coming Storm; a book that can be enjoyed both as a fun thriller and a powerful piece of futurist fiction about the ethical crises that arise when science and politics collide.