A space crew find an object that looks like a metal suitcase on an international space station. The case is returned to earth for examination where it releases a viral Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia. Those exposed to ARIA find they lose recent memories but still retain much older memories. Unfortunately, people have travelled and spread the virus before it’s identified or subjected to scientific examination.
Ryder had returned to England from America when the case was brought to earth. Via satellite link illicitly set up by his supervisor Manuel, he was able to watch the initial reaction caused by the ARIA virus. His sister working in labs nearby was able to take some blood samples of affected people and get her assistant to pass the information back to Ryder. Ryder’s girlfriend is a biologist and together they travel to a research facility in the Welsh countryside with a small group of associates to try and investigate what ARIA is whilst also keeping from becoming infected themselves.
Meanwhile Manuel, who is infected, holes himself away in a Canadian log cabin. As the ARIA virus spreads as easily as a common cold, it doesn’t take long for significant populations to become infected. People who recently moved house forget where they live. People forget where they work or revert to prior, outdated working practices. There’s a happy reunion for one couple who forget they got divorced, at least until they also forget they got married.
Meanwhile a second metal suitcase is discovered by the team who discovered the first. They face a dilemma: does this contain more of the virus or the antidote? Do they risk taking it back to earth for investigation or do they destroy it? What effect will it have on people who weren’t infected? Will it return forgotten memories or merely enable infected people to start remembering again?
The only jarring note was a Welsh speed sign in kilometres rather than miles per hour. The fact that this is an extremely minor point illustrates the ease of reading and the planning and thinking behind the novel. Geoff Nelder has nailed the explanation of scientific ideas without resorting to information dumps. He creates a balance between characters who are scientists and so at ease with the jargon and characters who aren’t without using the latter as foils to explain the former. As with all good science fiction novels, the scenario and characters play out within the logic of the world created and give the plot momentum without being solely character driven. The intriguing premise becomes a genuine story, that doesn’t reach a conclusion because it’s set up for a sequel. I’d be happy to read on but I don’t think “ARIA: Left Luggage” completely works as a stand alone book as it doesn’t answer some key questions.
By Emma Lee