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Ninc Newsletter

February 2012   •  Vol. 23, No. 02   •  Download pdf version

Fiction and Bioterrorism:
Sources for Authors


Anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock is aware of the potential for an act of bioterrorism in the U.S. The recently released movie Contagion’s ultimate premise is (Spoiler Alert!) that a lethal disease propagates across human populations by chance; the source is an infected bat in the wilderness of China. The disease spreads in much the same way that avian flu does.

But many authors of commercial fiction have taken that premise a step further, attributing an epidemic to a deliberate act (Robin Cook, Outbreak) or specifically, an act of terrorism. Examples of the latter include Tom Clancy’s classic Executive Orders, Michael Palmer’s A Heartbeat Away, Daniel Kalla’s Pandemic and Resistance, Marc Cameron’s National Security, Michael Walsh’s Shock Warning, Richard Reinking’s Pox—and there are countless others.

While fictional, these stories are based on the very real and increasing threat of bioterrorism in this country, and several of the authors draw upon medical and/or military backgrounds.

It’s widely believed that more than thirty countries have developed biological weapons of mass destruction, spanning at least a dozen bacterial and viral agents and toxins. These can spawn diseases such as small pox, anthrax, viral fevers, and plague, among others. A 2001 article in the journal Military Medicine notes that 100kg of anthrax spores released in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. could result in anywhere from 130,000

Table of Contents

New! Rules. New! Tools.: The Recap
      Authors and Agents Face A Shifting Landscape
      Transmedia: Storytelling Isn’t Limited to Books
Who Controls eBook Rights?
In Memoriam: Garda Parker
The Mad Scribbler: Fiction v. Life
On Fandom: I Love You … I Hate Your Hair
Writing Is Taxing: And The Two Shall Be As One … Sort Of
Not Your Usual Writing Advice: Revisiting Feng Shui

to 3,000,000 deaths from inhalation alone.

While this information, sadly, is no longer either new or surprising, it’s the fear that an epidemic such as this will go unrecognized for weeks that is truly terrifying. While the scenario in Contagion has characters dying within hours or days of being infected, it’s all too likely that the initial symptoms of a (covert) anthrax attack would be far less dramatic. They could go unnoticed, brushed off as the beginnings of a common flu, since the early symptoms are similar.

If smallpox were released in a major metropolitan area, chances are that the first cases would be misdiagnosed as chicken pox, and then only after an incubation period of two weeks—during which millions more people would be exposed to and contract the disease, which is highly contagious.    Continued on page 3 

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