In this Author Spotlight, we asked author Tananarive Due to tell us a bit about the background of her story for Lightspeed, “Patient Zero.”
Is there any real-life disease that inspired Virus-J? What kind of research did you do while you were working on “Patient Zero”?
I had a story I really wanted to tell about a child being raised in isolation, ignorant of an apocalyptic infection raging in the outside world, so my approach to “Patient Zero” was probably something like “A spoonful of science helps the narrative go down.”
Having said that, I was researching and writing The Living Blood at the time (or else I’d just finished it), a novel about blood that could heal any disease, and I’d done a lot of research into hot zones and Ebola and AIDS. Virus-J was created from my research for that novel, which went on to win an American Book Award.
It’s interesting that Jay tells us the virus came from the oil rig where his father worked. That’s got to have different implications for today’s readers than it did for the readers of ten years ago, when this piece was originally released. What inspired you to pick this career and workplace for Jay’s dad?
I was exploring the notion that this virus was something ancient that we had unearthed—and oil drilling was fair game, since oil dependency is such an unhealthy practice for our planet overall.
One detail that really hits the reader is the very brief discussion of the little girls in China, girls who had also survived Virus-J. There was a definite sensation that something terrible had happened to them. What inspired that moment in the story?
One of the consistent philosophies that has come across in my work, especially in The Living Blood and Blood Colony, is the notion that our survival instincts would drive us to almost any acts. Jay is probably lucky that he lived such a gentle life, and clearly the girls in China did not. I do think that if this kind of virus were sweeping the globe, anyone who was immune would definitely be imprisoned and studied—if not outright studied to death for reasons that would have as much to do with envy as with science.
Have you ever imagined what happened to Jay after this story ends?
It’s hard to think of poor Jay let loose in that horrific world outside. That’s probably why this short story never became a novel. But as I think about it now, I would like to imagine that Jay meets another group of survivors and they begin a path toward rebuilding the population.
Even though we’re stuck in Jay’s hospital room, there are still all these gorgeous details that place the story in Florida. What influenced the setting, and how integral is it to the piece?
I grew up in Miami, although I had left Florida by the time I wrote “Patient Zero,” so I’m sure the Florida references are evidence of homesickness. Florida will always be home in my heart. I live in Southern California now, but it’s a setting I plan to return to again.
Now we just have to hope that Jay doesn’t get eaten by alligators roaming empty streets! (Oops. Sorry. That was the horror writer in me…)
Is there anything else you’d like to share about this piece?
I’m especially proud of “Patient Zero” because it was included in two Best SF of the Year anthologies; Year’s Best SF 6, edited by David G. Hartwell, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction, edited by Gardner Dozois.
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