Book Planning: Ominous Parallels

Tentatively, this autumn’s writing project (which I am beginning research on now because I dislike being caught on the hop) revolves around an extremely unpleasant fictional virus known as KBV (short for Konebogetvirus, following the tradition of viruses being named after where they are found or thought to have first broken out).

Designing a virus from scratch has involved a certain amount of probing to find out just what level of viral design is actually feasible, and whether or not anyone would really go about making something more dangerous than it already was.

“No” was the general conclusion.

Then Dr Kawaoka’s team at Wisconsin-Madison built an Avian flu strain out of other avian flus and mutated it deliberately to make it airborne, in a move that was apparently designed to make my novel more plausible, as well as make most of the public health and virology communities close ranks to unanimously shout “why the fuck would you do that are you nuts?”.

This is the H5N1 avian influenza virus particles, coloured transmission electron micrograph (TEM). Each virus particle consists of ribonucleic acid (RNA), surrounded by a nucleocapsid and a lipid envelope (green). Click on image for source of both image and information.

Having confirmed that it is both possible and apparently that there are people in the world mental enough to both do this thing and fund other people doing this incredibly dangerous and stupid thing, I shrugged and moved on to reading some science faction, or non-fiction sensation, or whatever you want to call The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. It’s a very famous book, and in addition to getting my bearings with regards to what Ebola is really like, I thought it might be a good idea to see what other books in the genre of “epidemic thriller” are like*.

It’s a fascinating and speedy read, with about the right level of dumbed-down for my poor arts grad brain to handle, and the right amount of extraneous character detail to make you even more tense that whoever is about to die at any minute. Ebola: gross and terrifying. An unusual and unpleasant family of viruses, but a distant worry given that there haven’t really been any serious outbreaks that I can remember in a whi–

And then I came home and had this Tweet shown to me.
And then I came home and had this Tweet shown to me.

Okay, I’ll just… hope that these parallels don’t continue, then, given that I’m currently reading The Demon In The Freezer (also by Richard Preston), which is in the process of making me as shit-scared of Variola (smallpox) as I am now of Ebola. If anyone hears about some instances of that getting out, don’t tell me, or I’m going to start feeling guilty…


* Which probably means I’m going to have to read The Andromedia Strain and I really don’t want to. I had my Michael Crichton phase for a few years after I saw Jurassic Park at the right age for it, and the thought of returning to it does not appeal.

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5 thoughts on “Book Planning: Ominous Parallels

  1. I keep forgetting to mention in my idiotic emails the current ongoing ebola outbreak – it’s been going on for since the beginning of the year with 241 confirmed deaths since I last checked. Simultaneously, we have MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in – you guessed it – the Middle East: think SARS but with camels and Egyptian tomb bats, and less person-to-person transmission (thank god.) Your novel is depressingly timely.

    1. I don’t know whether to be proud that I’ve apparently made a good decision relating to a kind of epidemic zeitgeist or just supremely worried that I’m going to be accidentally right.

  2. Also I’ve got The Hot Zone on order because the last book I read kept mentioning it. Sounds like it’s a very… Hollywood version of Ebola (far too much blood and melting, not enough organ failure) but I’m still a bit excited.

  3. Apparently the movie contagion does a good job of showing how viruses spread and on a human storytelling level if you are keen to check it out also if an actual virus gets me you are going down

    1. Ah yes, I downloaded that on Holly’s recommendation also and now I just need to make myself watch it!

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