When a devastating virus outbreak strikes, a virologist hatches a radical idea to save the lives of future generations.
While on vacation in Florida, 8-year-old Lisa Morris starts to feel ill but, not wanting to miss the last day of fun, keeps her symptoms to herself. By the time she and her mother, Brooke, and father, Rick, meet her Aunt Isabelle, who happens to be a virologist-turned-pediatrician, at the baggage claim back home, Lisa is in bad shape. Dr. Isabelle Gauley sees what’s on little Lisa’s back, “a deep red, vicious-looking rash, humped up in little peaks, like goosebumps, like acne,” and immediately thinks measles. Quarantine follows, but it’s too late for Lisa, as it is for the people she infected back in Florida and on the plane ride home. Lisa is patient zero, the first identified case of Morris’s disease, which eventually kills about 5 percent of the world’s population, a catastrophic loss of life. The finger-pointing and blame were inevitable, as was the depletion of the vaccination supply, then the outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps. With the world paranoid, exhausted, and divided, Isabelle and her nurses try to mitigate the damage the best they can at their vaccination clinic, but they’re fighting a still-active anti-vaccination movement (of which Brooke and Isabelle’s sister, Angela, a radical activist, is a part). When Brooke approaches Izzy with shocking evidence that Morris’s has indelibly changed its survivors’ immune systems, Izzy puts in motion a controversial plan to save future lives. The pseudonymous Grant (Feedback, 2016, etc.) writes with a lean urgency, taking barbed aim at the anti-vaxxer movement and its surrounding ethics while bolstering her potent cautionary tale with enough scientific factoids to make the whole rolling disaster terrifyingly plausible. Readers will be simultaneously relieved and disappointed when the novella ends, but as Grant makes perfectly clear, this is a fight that is never truly over.
A thoughtful nightmare for uncertain times.