June 30, 2007

A Microbe Speaks

{Two 'test passages' from a projected novella I'm thinking of getting back to work on called Hello, This is Your Virus. The speaker is a microbiotic specimen that has been gifted with long life and articulate intelligence. Won't go into the specifics, might keep 'em just a little shady in the story itself, but keep in mind the voice in the following is that of a loquacious viral infection}

{This passage will link to a description of the organism's 'birth' as a conscious entity, in the bloodstream of a soldier in the great war. The argument connecting disease and war as natural phenomena will be considerably extended}

The influenza outbreak that followed (partly overlapping) the end of the First World War caused more deaths than every other battle of the war. Which suggests that if you were a miltary commander seeking true bang for your buck, you'd hire germs instead of people to fight your wars. Certainly they're a whole lot less demanding when it comes to wages and medical benefits. The only real disadvantage is that your true epidemic never knows when to quit. Try showing a deadly bacterial strain two rival armies sometime, and see how well it distinguishes friend from foe. If you lay much emphasis on the distinction yourself, the result is bound to disappoint.

The military efficiency of the 1918 epidemic is surprising in one sense: your average influenza strain is dumb as two posts, and this particular variety was dangerously inbred. It could lead you to wonder if military success is a function of intelligence at all.

{The virus's opinion of smart bombs}

Some of the terms you use puzzle me. There are whole nations whose bloodstreams my progeny are entirely ignorant of, so I have no firsthand knowledge of how suicide bombers are viewed in the parts of the world where they proliferate: I gather more admiringly than they are hereabouts. You tend to regard them as cowardly, which makes no sense according to any definition of the word I've ever come across--and the definitions you carry in your blood are truer than the ones you put on paper--or as mad, and that seems a good deal more plausible. Then you turn around and describe a bomb that acts exactly like a suicide bomber as smart: where's the logic in that? I have no idea what the quality of life is of your average bomb: maybe they're in a state of permanent depression or diffused impotent rage. But if these bombs were really smart, wouldn't they refuse to explode?

C 2007 Martin Heavisides


Chancelucky said...

I like the idea of a smart bomb being one that wouldn't explode. It isn't clear to me who the virus is supposed to be speaking to.

So what's your theory on why the 1918 flu epidemic stopped?

Martin Heavisides said...

Short attention span? Hadn't really thought to explain that. Part of the reason the virus who is my main character (who is speaking, suppositiously, to the person whose bloodstream it inhabits) will give for the connection of disease and war is, besides the improved field of activity for infection generated by battlefield conditions, the fact that the impulses behind a major war are largely unconscious (I plan to have him compare the strategy of WWI's chief generals on both sides unfavourably with that of the influenza virus) and actions at the microbial level are almost universally unconscious, and so attuned to unconscious manifestations in higher species. Which might be an argument excluded by Occam's Razor, but what do microbes know about higher theory anyway?

Chancelucky said...

That sounds like it could be great fun. Perhaps the microbe could talk about his friends like bubonic plague, scarlet fever, etc. and their strategies.

Years ago, I read a nonficiton book called Timescale that pointed out that if you looked at the earth from afar, you might conclude that grass or grasses were the dominant species on earth. Except for their recent attempts to pave everything, much of human activity has taken the form of turning various environments into grasslands.