There is plenty of alternative action beyond the obvious one around the virus and its impact. There are flirtations and love interests between the surviving group–especially Ryder and one of the astronauts Jena, who arrives back on Earth with the case. One of the more fascinating characters is the racy Italian Antonio, who bravely volunteers to be the first to open the second case. Other synergies form amidst the chaos between Manuel, the first person to get the virus, and “Jat,” a woman who he meets while trying to gather supplies. There are plenty of surprises along the way as people use their electronic “NoteComs” in an effort to hold on to a semblance of reality in the face of a rapidly disappearing past.
In typical Nelder style, there is black humour throughout the book, with more than a hint of camp as the virus progresses (Mad Max comes to mind at times), and lots of fun as the plot unfolds. There are also some serious philosophical questions raised about human nature and ecology, which becomes particularly poignant at one point when Ryder is admiring the Rockie Mountains:
”They had the look of the immutable for millions of years, give or take glacial erosion and the occasional earth movement. ARIA took Man away and allowed Mother Nature to start recovering.”
The book is only part one of what looks like being a two part series, and is enticingly ambiguous about the cases, the two viruses–ARIA 1 and 2--and about the ultimate fate of Ryder, Jenna, Manuel, “Jat”, and the human race itself. I’m afraid it will be very difficult for readers to part one without coming back for part two ARIA: Returning Left Luggage. ARIA: Left Luggage mingles the most optimistic calculations from the Drake Equation with a distopian outcome, creating a read that is as intriguing as it is fun.