Travis Norwood, Sugar Scars


That was a fun weekend read that took me to a different time and place for a couple of days, a good effort at speculative fiction based on a premise that has been used by others as well: What if most of the planet’s population was wiped out in a short time by a virulent strain of an airborne virus?

Set for the most part in Tallahassee, Florida, this novel follows the main character, a diabetic young woman with limited education but a great mind for numbers and a strong drive for survival, from the immediate aftermath of a pandemic that wipes out all but 1 out of 9600 inhabitants to a few years later when the insulin that is required to keep her alive has either expired or disappeared and she has to figure out how to make it before it is too late.

Some of the themes that come up in this novel are:

  • Resourcefulness and collaboration when it is needed for survival
  • Need for community building
  • Issues with security, vandalism and peacekeeping when all formal structures and institutions have disappeared
  • Creativity and use of available competencies and knowledge for the common good
  • Managing grief and the loss of loved ones in the face of incredible uncertainty

All this is mixed in with an interesting story, with main characters that become more endearing throughout the story.

What could have been improved in this book:

  • The structure is very, very linear, with a slow start. There could have been more action from the beginning.
  • Some situations are very unrealistic, for example: the flight to Brazil with a senile veteran as the pilot, and the gun fight to rescue the Brazilian women from the men holding them captive to use them as sex slaves.
  • The Bible-thumping preacher was quite a caricature. The character could have been more complex, spiritual and empathetic.

Some aspects of the book were reminiscent of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, but Mandel’s writing was certainly better, and the structure of the book more complex with better portrayal of the before and after situations. The “sex slave” part reminded me a little bit of one chunk of Saramago’s Blindness.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for access to this book.


Norwood, Travis. Sugar Scars. Booktrope Editions, Seattle, WA, 2015.

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