The Infected is a nine-book series (plus trilogy spinoff the Infected: Ripped to Shreds) of superhero books by author PS Powers.
Brian Yi is a fat MIT dropout who stacks toilet paper in a plant job to keep up rent, groceries and video game money, but he has a secret. He is one of the Infected, a superhuman, with the power to take the place of people who are about to die. This gets out after he loses a fight to a superpowered serial killer called the Jackal, leading to Brian's brutal arrest, torture and near-murder by a police department not remotely equipped to handle superpowers.
He is then taken to a hospital, and finally to the base of the Infected Protection Bureau (IPB) the secretive federal agency that deals with Infected crime. The experts give him a life expectancy of months before he is dropped into a situation he simply cannot escape, but think if he does nothing but work out and train for months, he can save dozens of lives, and maybe, just maybe, he can prevent outright war between the Infected and Normals.
In this world, the mysterious Infection (it's not contagious OR biological, just a name from when they tried to study and contain it like it was) grants people superpowers, and has since the late seventies. However, 90% of powers are not combat-useful, and every Infected has a "first mode" a particular emotion or mindset that is dialed up to eleven and becomes their default state. Very few things are healthy turned up to that degree— even kindness and compassion make you a doormat. In effect, each Infected is a superhuman with an untreatable mental illness, which makes it easy to hate and fear them.
They apparently had a brief superhero phase (which ended when Congress authorized police and military to shoot anyone wearing a mask on sight) and were Super Soldiers throughout the Cold War. Today, there are no superheroes, merely field operatives of the IPB. But it could be worse; the Russians and Chinese apparently shoot their Infected out of hand, and welcoming liberal France has apparently became an anarchic wasteland of feuding superhuman warlords. Still, the concept of Infected concentration camps has many strong backers in Congress, and there's a powerful team of ex-Special Forces Infected eager to begin the war....
The first, middle and last books are told from the POV of Brian (who is given the codename Proxy) and it is very much his story. The remaining six books have the POV of the title character, but tend to feature previous POV characters prominently.
The Infected contains examples of:
- An Ice Person: Debbie Scofield AKA Snow Queen.
- Antagonist Abilities: The whole of Alpha Team have seriously unfair powers, high-level precognition, mind control, mass teleportation, and instant skill mastery, that leave the heroes constantly playing catch-up and second-guessing themselves.
- Awesome by Analysis: Marcia Turner/Beatdown is invulnerable, but not the fastest or the strongest Infected. She has a very high threat rating, however, because she uses all her spare time to plan for contingencies and how to take down other people including those way outside her official weight-class.
- Brian gets in a few good lumps entirely because of his ability to analyze a situation and make a plan.
- Bad Powers, Good People: Gabriel Denis is fully aware of the irony of a scary mind-controller trying to be a hero. As he learns and grows, he becomes increasingly concerned about his powers and the temptations they provide.
- Beware the Superman: Fear of this scenario, which apparently happened in France, motivates most of the antagonists. It gets discussed fairly often.
- Blessed with Suck: Brian's powers are more-or-less a death sentence, placing him into danger again and again until one day he dodges a little too slow.
- And he's still far better off than Melanie Miller, who has the power to uncontrollably turn the people around her into superhuman cannibalistic monsters with an all-consuming hunger for her flesh specifically, which makes them even stronger and tougher.
- The Infected in general are this, as they get an incurable mental disorder and the hatred of the general public and 90% don't even get a worthwhile superpower out of it.
- Both Sides Have a Point: The Infected are legitimately dangerous, but not generally as powerful or out-of-control as people think. Fear does inspire people to take extreme action- one incident involves police shooting a little boy who had the power to glow in the dark. But not everyone, or even most people, want to kill the Infected.
- Boxing Lessons for Superman: Everyone trains to fight, no matter how powerful. Justified in that the IPB is a federal law enforcement agency. Gabriel and several others with mental powers grow more powerful with meditation training.
- The Call Knows Where You Live: Brian apparently had a couple of powered incidents before the first book that were no big deal, just scaring off muggers and bullies who would have gone too far. However, he has no control and no choice, his power will take him to where people are in danger. And of course, after coming home covered in blood the cops kick in his door and he needs to be rescued by the IPB.
- Cape Busters: The Agents are basically what happens when you run a bunch of ex-Special Forces guys through Training from Hell, and teach them to respond to any problem by emptying a clip of ammo into it. This tendency causes some problems as the series progresses.
- The Chessmaster: Braid, and to a lesser extent, Brian.
- Crazy-Prepared: Ever since one team went rogue back in the day, the IPB has detailed plans to kill each and every one of their members... including several who should probably be unkillable.
- Create Your Own Villain: Alpha Team would not have nearly so much success rallying Infected to resist the government, if the government weren't actively discussing exterminating the Infected.
- Deconstruction: of superheroes in general.
- The Determinator: Brian. This is often commented upon in-universe.
- Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Averted, the series contains no less than three female rapists, and each is called on it. Played straight in that only one is punished, and to a far lesser degree than a male rapist would have been.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: It takes a lot of struggle and doubt, the way gets very dark, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
- Fantastic Racism: Infected cannot serve in the police, military or government, officially. And while discrimination is officially banned, the heroes still encounter everything from denial of services, to police brutality, to lynch mobs.
- Flying Brick: Surprisingly rare. Really just Prime and Bridget. Bricks are really common, but the flying part not so much.
- From Bad to Worse: Each book, even as individual characters experience growth, the global situation for Infected gets worse and worse.
- Groin Attack: A frequent part of Brian's "any means necessary" fighting style, along with eye pokes.
- Healing Hands: Elizabeth Carlie and her entire family have this.
- Hufflepuff House: Team Two is very short on viewpoint characters, even Tobin gets promoted to Team One in his book and doesn't go on any normal operations. Since they're the most active team in actually combating superhuman threats, it's a bit odd we almost never see them in action.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: Nobody would choose to be Infected, if given the choice. Any Infected who can pass, does.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Notably, while the IPB works against anti-Infected bigotry, they don't really have a better solution to Infected violence themselves.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Denis, he just needed a little characterization.
- Motor Mouth: Bridget is this, with first mode impulsivity, she blurts out whatever comes to mind.
- Mugging the Monster: A few times unarmed normal people try and pick fights with Brian, or other IPB agents.
- Muggle Power: There are multiple anti-Infected movements, some are religious extremists, bigots or fear-motivated... but even the heroes admit they have no useful long-term solutions to the problem of unstable supers.
- Mutant Draft Board: The IPB have a fearsome reputation among the Infected for precisely this reason. Previously, Infected were employed by the Special Forces in the Cold War, but they proved unstable and unreliable, and their most powerful team went rogue.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Where Alpha Team is led by a high-level precog, the heroes have to spend a lot of time wondering if they're really foiling Braid's schemes, or advancing her master plan. It turns out to have been the latter. Mostly.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Braid's plans depend to an extent on Brian's surviving and mastering his powers.
- Person of Mass Destruction: surprisingly many, considering how low-powered the series starts. Basically any member of Team Three or Alpha Team.
- Kevin Moore, Less, can vanish anything he can see. It has been theorized he could destroy the entire world, effortlessly.
- Earthling is a terrakinetic who can casually destroy whole villages and cities.
- Foggy is Golden Age Superman, and has one of the highest body-counts of any of the Cold War era supersoldiers.
- Tesseract has time/space-warping powers that let him kill hundreds of Infected in the blink of an eye, and make him an unstoppable assassin, as he can stride casually into any locked room and ignore any weapon. He is the only Infected officially capable of defeating an entire First World nation.
- Stillness is a mind-controller with no apparent limits in range, how many people he can control or how subtle or direct his control is.
- Trivia knows everything another human being does. Secrets, blackmail, skills, nuclear launch codes....
- Physical God: Numerous, see above. Also Prime and Impulse who are mostly invulnerable and strong enough to flip over tanks.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Director Moore, who sometimes butts heads with Brian over the latter's maverick antics and taking charge. Still, he knows precisely when to bend the rules.
- Retired Badass: Kevin Moore, the Director and kindly grandfather figure of the IPB, used to be the operative codenamed Less, with the power to make anything he saw vanish, including mountains, villages, and once a nuclear explosion. He doesn't like to use his powers so much anymore, destruction and killing weigh on the mind, but he will if he has too.
- Shock and Awe: The power of Charles, AKA Sparks, the leader of Team Two.
- Sinister Minister: Prophet Darren.
- Smug Super: Prime is both a powerful person, and has first mode narcissism. He's actually a nice guy underneath it, but can't help but come off as smug to everyone he interacts with.
- Straw Hypocrite: Of three named leaders of the anti-Infected Clean Movement two are Infected themselves. Senator Hooper, the leader who uses a projection power to kill his political rivals and other loose ends, and Prophet Darren, an emotion-manipulating cult leader. Darren may or may not believe his powers to be sinful, but Hooper is just using his people.
- Superhuman Trafficking: Healers almost always vanish immediately, as corporate or criminal interests kidnap them.
- Super Registration Act: It's not illegal to have powers, though using them in any crime can get you anything from life imprisonment to on-the-spot execution. However, there is a longstanding unofficial policy that if you have dangerous powers in the USA, you work for the IPB or you are never heard from again, and there are contingencies for every IPB operative going rogue. Nobody is really happy about the situation.
- Super Soldier: In the past, the IPB was this as an organization of Infected working for the Armed Services during the Cold War. In the current period of the setting, being outed as Infected is grounds for an instant discharge.
- Super Speed: In descending order, the IPB has: Argo, Twitch, Impulse, Foggy and Quartz as speedsters. Mark can appear to be like this, but his actual power is Time Stops.
- Took a Level in Badass: Brian again. Beginning as a seriously overweight nerd, by the end of the first book Navy SEALs are nervous about throwing down with him. Made especially clear in his rematch with the Jackal.
- Made even more clear by the end of the series After discovering his power wasn't just taking people's places, but strong precog coupled with nearly limitless time-space warping powers allowing, among other things, casual dimension travel, time-travel, teleportation, mass teleportation, hammerspace, and space-warping.
- Torches and Pitchforks: Come up fairly often. Just the appearance of an obvious Infected in public is sometimes enough to spark a mob, and all but two of the main characters wind up either talking down or fleeing such a mob at some point.
- Wham Line: The author is very fond of these, trying to end each chapter with one. Which costs the trope some of it's bite, as half the time the cliffhanger is resolved in the first paragraph or two of the next chapter and never mentioned again. There are a few standouts however.
- I'm causing this. Just let me die.
- "The Hooper Actnote , they've passed it."
- What the Hell, Hero?: Comes up in-universe fairly often, when someone makes a mistake or some unpleasant aspect of the IPB's operations comes to light. Special mention goes to Penny's raping of half the cast. Aside from being invisible, her power erases people's memories of her.
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Every Infected has a first mode that is at least maladaptive, if not outright crippling.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Melanie Miller
- Xanatos Speed Chess: This is how Brian's precog power being used against Braid's is described.