The Plague Notebook: Derealization in SF Time

Earth Day, April 22, 1970

All too easily, this could be a science fiction novel.

“You don’t necessarily develop a vaccine that is safe and effective against every virus. Some viruses are very, very difficult when it comes to vaccine development – so for the foreseeable future, we are going to have to find ways to go about our lives with this virus as a constant threat,”  said David Nabarro, professor of global health at Imperial College, London, and an envoy for the World Health Organization on Covid-19 (The Guardian).

We don’t see the larger picture when we look at the pandemic.  We say cheerfully, “They WILL find a vaccine soon.” And some happy people look on the “bright side,” the decrease of pollution.  They believe our society will carry this ecological awareness into “the new normal.”  

I love the new clean air and the new quiet–I see the beauty of nature more than ever–but I suspect  Paradise will be lost-again. People will get back in their cars, trucks, SUVs, and hybrids (the compromise quasi-ecological vehicle affordable to the few) and drive doorstep-to-doorstep more than ever, running their engines constantly at drive-throughs.  

Accidents and politics are interwoven.  One gathers that Covid-19 was an accident transmitted by bats to live animals in a Wuhan market  (ugh!) and then to humans.  There is plenty to despair about with such a horrifying accident, and we have read about the deforestation and urban sprawl that led to greater proximity to wild animals and thence the virus.   

And then there is overpopulation, as we have known at least since the mid-20th century, one of the greatest causes of pollution and a deterrent to sustainability and life on earth.  And so the plague: accident, politics, conspiracy theories, and a kind of I Am Legend a wound up in a big SF novel (with a bad plot!).

There are three science fiction books I recommend to help cope with our pollution-created crises:  Frank Herbert’s ecological masterpiece, Dune (which I posted abut at my old blog Mirabile Dictu here and here), John Brunner’s The Sheep Look up (which I posted about here), and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Word for World Is Forest (not at all a good book, but an ecolological novel)!  

À la Caffeine: Editing Pulp Science Fiction

“Why did I say I’d do this?” I wondered as I sipped a soy latte at  À la Caffeine.

À la  Caffeine is the chic coffee boutique for itinerant writers in our uncharted provincial city.  Managed by a library school dropout who has posted  “Shh” signs on the wall, it is a nearly silent cafe.

“Shh” isn’t everybody’s favorite word.  And so the clientele tend to be Renaissance Fair organizers designing Celtic Clan flyers, nervous Ph.D. students writing snappy dissertations on Sexuality in  Small Towns in Willa Cather’s Later Fiction, and freelancers desperately polishing reviews of “The Ten Best Homeless Shelters in Town”–for the alternative paper.

I often write such things myself, but today I’m editing a pulp SF novel about a race of “Uplifted” animals– animals who are biologically modified in labs to have human intelligence.

I am doing this as a favor for an editor friend who is  forced to publish this thing.

Wow!  This is ineffably bad.   I asked in an email,  “Did you know the hero is a  lemur whose ancestors are   blue ponies?”

She wrote, “Yeah.  Delete ALL adjectives and adverbs and cut to 30,000 words. Then we hide it in an anthology, submit it for an SF novella prize, and call it done.”

But where to start?  Here is the astonishing first  paragraph.

And so it came to be that Hal the Lemur flew through the tall green  trees of Madagascar Not-on-Earth  on the morning that Mam was attacked by the Madagascar Hawk. Hal bravely fought it. His Mam was not alive…not dead.  He could get help  from the  blue Ponies who’d trained him in Rhetoric and Medicine. And then he saw the Pony Ship was gone. Gone through space……time was a concept…time and space beyond Ponies beyond Earth…beyond…and he was alone.

But will it win the novella prize?

I’ll have another soy latte.