Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The 4400: Welcome to Promise City by Greg Cox

Spoiler Level: Low for this actual book; High for the TV series.

The thing I loved most about The 4400 was not just that it told the story of what happens when ordinary people are given extraordinary powers, but that it didn't try to hide it and act like "this could all be happening in secret at this very moment." No, The 4400 were brought back in a giant ball of light in 2004, and everyone saw it happen on CNN, and the world has never been the same since. It's not just a story of how power changes people; it's a story of how people change the world.

The end of each season always upped the stakes. When the final episode aired, an airborne outbreak of promicin had spread through Seattle, killing thousands of people... and giving thousands more abilities.

It was a really lousy place for the series to get canceled. Personally, if I got super powers but lost a loved one in the process, I'd hardly consider it a worthwhile trade. I couldn't wait to see how the people of Seattle (now renamed Promise City by The 4400 Movement's leader, Jordan Collier) were going to react to this.

Thankfully, Pocket Books has come to the rescue with two new books continuing the story. I read through the first book, Welcome to Promise City, within 48 hours, which is pretty dang fast for me. It's that good.

The plus side is all the characters are here and in perfect form, and it feels like they never left. Richard Tyler gets a lot to do again as well, and it's a very welcome return. And the stakes continue to get upped-- those outside Promise City fear that someone will try to weaponise promicin and deliberately infect other cities around the world. And not everyone in Promise City necessarily thinks that's a bad idea. The result is escalating conflicts that may very well lead to a full-scale war between Promise City and the US military.

The down side is that being a two-book series and not a thirteen-episode TV series, the bulk of the attention is on the main characters and the main plotline, and not about what life for the average person in Seattle has become like. It acknowledges that about 18,000 out of 4 million people were affected by the outbreak, and that about a third of the people unaffected have fled Seattle. Many of the people infected have joined Collier, but it acknowledges that not everyone agrees with him and that some people are even not happy to have gained abilities. These are the characters I wanted to meet, which we undoubtedly would have been able to if the show had gone to a fifth season. But as it is they're simply not relevant to the larger arc, so they've had to be pushed to the sidelines.

But the larger arc is still a very gripping tale, and everyone in this book is completely in character. It feels like a great visit with some old friends. Greg Cox has done a great job continuing this series, and if you liked the show, you'll love this book.

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