18499955Reviewed by Shannon Trenton

It is a proven fact that the world population has exploded in the last century. While it took 18 centuries to reach the first billion people, it has only taken about two centuries to grow by six times that much. With so many people competing for finite resources, the future sustainability of our planet and the human race has been called into question. What if somebody proposed a radical solution to stem the tide?

In The Culling, author Robert Johnson imagines such a scenario.

CDC virologist Carl Sims is assigned to track a flu outbreak in the Guangdong region of China. His team, led by eminent researcher Dr. Jenna Williams, is shocked to find a flu strain that has infected everyone and has killed two out of three people. As Carl continues his quest for answers he uncovers sign after sign that the killer flu may not be at all what he imagined. When he begins to experience symptoms, he begins a race across the world to evade quarantine and warn his colleagues before it is too late.

At the same time, a small group of the world’s foremost scientists has been pondering the issues created by overpopulation – the extinction of flora and fauna, rapidly depleting food and natural resources, and the potential for humanity’s destruction as the situation worsens. These few agree that drastic measures are necessary to save humanity from itself, and when Carl’s path crosses with them he must decide whether to participate in the culling, or to try and stop it.

Johnson weaves narrative with real world references, including stories about the “Octomom” and statements from well-known scholars about the dangers of overpopulation. The population control movement that motivates the scientists in this story is a fictional construct, but mirrors the position of real-life biologist Paul Ehrlich.

Readers familiar with Dan Brown’s Inferno may find it interesting to compare the two books and each author’s approach to the same issue. While I certainly found the former book entertaining, I was captivated by Johnson’s willingness to directly challenge deep-seated moral norms about the value of individual lives versus the value of the whole population, as well as each character’s internal struggle with the decisions he or she made. Peripheral plot points made certain decisions all the more poignant.

My concerns with the book are few, and do not detract considerably from my own enjoyment of the story. The language dealing with the diseases in question is highly technical and makes some passages difficult to follow. Also, there were some typographical and grammatical errors in my review copy; however, as it is a preview edition I fully expect those issues to be resolved in the final sale copy.

The Culling forces the reader to confront a troubling question about our world’s ability to sustain its current population growth, and to consider whether the benefits of steps to mitigate the damage can possibly balance out the morally and ethically questionable steps themselves. If you’re interested in stories of suspense, morality tales or ones that bring real-world issues into sharp focus, you will enjoy The Culling. While you may need a medical dictionary to cut through some terminology, the effort is well worth it.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Shannon lives in Cleveland, Ohio with her husband, son, and two cats. When she isn’t reading, getting paid to play on social media, or running her own business she enjoys playing with her baby and cooking.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by The Permanent Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.