The Set Up
When a Centers for Disease Control quarantine fails at Ben Taub Hospital, a Houston SWAT Team is sent in to secure the facility. What they find is destruction and death. Trapped in the hospital, cut off from the world, a mysterious voice on the radio is all they have to guide them. They’re no longer on a mission to quarantine the remaining inhabitants. Instead, they have to destroy a multiplying menace that could infect the world before the Federal Government enacts a final solution.
Yep, I pretty much jumped straight from book two to reading the third available book in the Black series! As with Arrival, The Black: Outbreak is a paraquel to both of the other books, covering events that begin primarily in Arrival – the infection of one of the labs’ scientists, who falls ill and is taken to Ben Taub hospital in downtown Houston under CDC quarantine.
Now, having read the first two books, I already knew this was gonna turn bad fast, because infection by the black generally means being consumed alive from the inside until it “bursts” out and goes on a killing spree.
While the black had a fairly slow build up to the start of the black being loose, Arrival got into the action quicker. Outbreak, however, wastes little time getting into things. We get a quick establishment of the CDC folks, the doctor they work with in the quarantine zone, and the one-offs who you know aren’t likely to make it long, then all heck breaks loose.
With Ben Taub being a nearly 600 bed hospital, suffice to say we get carnage, and tons of it, pretty fast. I think the black had consumed well over one hundred folks within 20-30% of the story! Once the quarantine is broken, we also get introduced to the Houston SWAT team sent in to “help” only to find themselves trapped with everyone else in the hospital because the Feds have locked down communications and have made it clear that anyone trying to leave the hospital will be executed without prejudice.
Some element of government lockdown entered in to Arrival, but with Outbreak, they definitely become the second antagonist of our group of survivors, in particular for the SWAT team and the surviving CDC scientists and doctors who either have to find a way to kill the delightfully segmented Black that is eating its way through floors of the hospital, or the place will get nuked to oblivion.
Once again, I really enjoyed reading this kind of story with the characters involved being competent and intelligent. The SWAT guys were not reduced just caricature meatheads, but highly skilled operatives with great personalities and quirks. The CDC folks were clearly out of their league, but once they got past the shock and fear, they were able to fall back on their extensive knowledge and help figure out ways to kill that thing.
Despite being fairly quick-moving, Paul weaves out a set of complex, nuanced characters for the smaller subset of main characters. Their personalities, natures, and their relationships to one another are well fleshed out without heavy exposition sequences. In the case of Outbreak, this is primarily with our SWAT team and the three CDC folks who each have their own form of comradery and closeness, but even some of the characters who are only around for a scene to be eaten are so well presented that you feel a momentary loss at their dying.
Paul clearly did his homework in researching CDC procedures, the hospital nature and logistics of how things could work in the building, and the SWAT tactics that would be likely to be used in this unusual scenario. It adds a lot of authenticity to the story, often times in such small ways you don’t even notice until you stop and really think about it.
In case it isn’t clear, I thoroughly enjoyed Outbreak and I’m really looking forward to Evolution, which hints at bringing together the survivors from all three books through means hinted at in the end of Arrival and blatantly made clear at the end of Outbreak. So excited!
P.S. For fans of Dead Robots’ Society, Paul has a chapter that is especially fun as he throws in all of his fellow co-hosts at the times for a fun bit of extra special slaughtering (all clearly in good humor, as listeners will appreciate).