BOOK REVIEW: The Bridge, by Janine Ellen Young

Rating: 1 out of 5.
  • A standalone novel
  • Published by Simon & Schuster
  • First published in 2000
  • An apocalyptic social SF
  • 348 pages

A deadly plague ravages the Earth, killing eighty-five percent of the population. And perhaps they are the lucky ones. For those who survive the disease suffer visions of alien origin, and are overcome by a strange compulsion, and an obsession with a bridge . . .

I’m just going to come out and say it. I did not enjoy this book. In effect, this review can end right there. On almost no level did The Bridge work for me, and it is by far my least favourite book I’ve read in 2022. The silver lining is that it’s all uphill from here, but I think it’s important to talk about why I didn’t like this book. Shouting ‘I don’t like this’ from the mountaintops does nobody any good. And who knows, maybe the reasons this book failed to win me over will be the reason it’s your favourite book. Let’s find out.

The core idea behind The Bridge is a fascinating one. It’s essentially a first contact novel, at least in conception, and having that first contact come through an alien probe is a refreshingly hard SF take on an old idea. Even the way that the probe infects humanity with a disease that rewires our DNA to better communicate is great – in theory. In practice, all of this largely sets the stage for a human drama that is far less interesting to me than the larger ideas at play. Because once the origins of the plague are out of the way, The Bridge is largely a story about survival in a post-pandemic world, and the importance of human contact.

Obviously, any story involving a plague feels different in 2022 than it did in 2000. Not because it hits too hard or feels to real, but because we now have first-hand experience of what a global disease outbreak looks like. Young’s depiction is of a much worse disease, but it unravels in a manner so unlike the COVID-19 pandemic that is just feels wrong. And having lived through an outbreak and numerous national lockdowns, I can confirm that reading about characters stuck in their homes due to a disease is even less interesting than experiencing it for yourself. Even the revelation that some people are not infected, but actually mutated, by the disease can’t live it up, and the idea of a human with a brain in their vestigial tail and venom in their bite is more laughable than anything else.

In spite of its hard SF introduction and the broad scope of it’s overall theme, The Bridge is a disappointingly character-focused novel. And I say focused not driven, because there’s not much momentum in this book. It’s actually pretty short, but the chapters just drag by. By the end, I could barely tell the characters apart, and the large time jumps barely seemed to affect their mindsets and behaviours. A lot of this is down to my general apathy towards character-centric stories, but it definitely hurt my enjoyment of the book. More science and less introspection would definitely have helped.

Overall, The Bridge is an incredibly messy book that never quite manages to live up to the full potential of its ideas. Coupled with a writing style that I couldn’t get into no matter how hard I tried, it’s no wonder I’m already forgetting it.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Noumenon, by Marina J. Lostetter
A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine
Emily Eternal, by M.G. Wheaton

Published by Alex Hormann

I'm a writer, reader, and farmer, with an interest in all things speculative.

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