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Author Topic: EP112: The Giving Plague  (Read 40294 times)

Russell Nash

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on: June 28, 2007, 02:21:38 PM
EP112: The Giving Plague

By David Brin.
Read by Dr. Jonathon Sullivan.
First appeared in Interzone#23, 1988.
Now available at

Yeah, you viruses need vectors, don’t you. I mean, if you kill a guy, you’ve got to have a life raft, so you can desert the ship you’ve sunk, so you can cross over to some new hapless victim. Same applies if the host proves tough, and fights you off — gotta move on. Always movin’ on.

Hell, even if you’ve made peace with a human body, like Les suggested, you still want to spread, don’t you? Big-time colonizers, you tiny beasties.

Oh, I know. It’s just natural selection. Those bugs that accidentally find a good vector spread. Those that don’t, don’t. But it’s so eerie. Sometimes it sure feels purposeful….

Rated PG. Contains intended violence, epidemics, and deep technical dialogue.

Referenced Sites:
Geek Fu Action Grip
Heinlein Society Blood Drives

Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


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Reply #1 on: June 28, 2007, 03:35:57 PM
I am not able to get the download, from iTunes or the EP website.  I also can't listen from the player.  Just thought I'd comment in case the problem wasn't just at my end.

Edit:  OK, it's working now
« Last Edit: June 28, 2007, 04:18:13 PM by kmmrlatham »

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Reply #2 on: June 28, 2007, 03:40:25 PM
I'm having the same problem. In fact, I can't download *any* EP episodes right now - I've tried from three different computers, in two different buildings.

I'm assuming the problem is on their end.

Edit: Got it now.
« Last Edit: June 28, 2007, 04:05:30 PM by eytanz »


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Reply #3 on: June 28, 2007, 06:36:14 PM
I've read this story in print and I adored the premise. 

I'd love it if an alturism virus infected humanity. Other virus's I'd like to spread:

-A virus that makes people silence their screaming kids in public places like restaurants.

-A virus that keeps people from littering.

-A virus that makes my clients remember paying invoices on time.

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Stories about Winning at Losing and Failing Successfully.


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Reply #4 on: June 28, 2007, 08:26:24 PM
Good story.  I love that it is told from the POV of someone who resents the altruism virus and yet he is the only one who knows about it.  He wants to be a bad guy, but he never gets a chance to be.  I like the fact that he is so stubborn about doing everything on his own terms, and he wants the virus to know that it is his decision to be infected.  I know people like that.  Very rich characterization.  This story would not have worked from a large scale view (like Eight Episodes).  It worked because of the POV voice.

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Reply #5 on: June 28, 2007, 09:48:27 PM
On the download problems people were having: yes, that was on our end.  Specifically, it was my Web host.  Apparently they're starting to get antsy about our Thursday peak usage, thought it'd be fun to put a throttle on my bandwidth, and then told me about it after the fact.

As a stopgap for today, I moved this week's file to a different domain outside the throttle.  Things seem to be working again.  By next week I'll try to have a more stable solution.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience to everyone who tried to download last night and this morning..

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


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Reply #6 on: June 29, 2007, 05:39:37 AM
no problem steave , its all good now

card carying dislexic and  gramatical revolushonery


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Reply #7 on: June 29, 2007, 11:38:02 AM
Another great story - it's strange how a story can end up with the human race nearly annihilated by a really unpleasant plague but still feel optimistic. And Steve's comment about the unreliable narrator was spot-on.

The "donating blood" virus is a bit silly - donating blood is such a culture-specific, technology-dependent act that it's not really possible we'd have a biological imperative of any sort targeting it rather than a more basic behavior - I could see it if the virus would make people enjoy losing blood, but the consequences of that would not be nearly as benign. Far more likely would be a virus that's the reverse of how the ALAS worked: it would make people more altruistic in general - which is a biological imperative - and donating blood is part of that. I'm curious why Brin didn't choose to do it that way, as I'm pretty sure the thought must have occurred to him.

Oh well. While I probably suffer from a nitpicking virus (whose vector may well be internet forums, so beware), that in no way diminished my enjoyment of the story.


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Reply #8 on: June 29, 2007, 12:48:29 PM
Fitting story, given that I'm under the weather at the moment. :)
But it's not the altruistic virus (at least I don't think so), I'm very giving out of myself. Don't need a virus to do that. (But I have yet to donate blood)

I liked the premise, and wonder what would have happened if the protagonist was indeed infected by that virus.
Or perhaps he was already infected with a virus that would get killed by ALAS.


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Reply #9 on: June 29, 2007, 07:17:59 PM
Well, I think I found my favorite, being a man wanting to go into virology, this piece was perfect. At first, I didn't think I would like the way it was written, me, the reader, being the subject of the story, but it turns out that I like being talked to like a virus! I just loved everything about it, the difference in character of people in the same field of work, the way the viruses were personified, everything. If this story were a planet, it would definitely be Earth.


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Reply #10 on: June 29, 2007, 07:38:42 PM
This is my first post about a story; so a little background is in order.  I’m 52 and liked and read Science Fiction in the ‘60s and ‘70s until “Science” Fantasy became the rage. 

For me good SF is founded in the writer being knowledgeable in current science* (be it Astronomy, Quantum Physics, mechanical engineering, social sciences, etc.), being able to craft an interesting story based upon that science that shows the affects on society and/or an individual.  I like it when I can learn, be entertained and expand my mind.

I started listening again to SF when I subscribed to the Radio Nostalgia Network and also discovered Escape Pod.  I listen to a lot of Pod cast because I am retired and travel a great deal.  I highly recommend the Berkley Pod casts.  In the field of Astronomy I would recommend Astro 10.  I am currently listening to “Letters and Science 70B” about global warming.

After listening to Escape Pod I was thinking of dropping it because many of the stories do not meet the criteria for what interest me (above). For example, “The 43 Antaean Dynasties (  is an example of what is not SF in my mind.  It was a weak story.   Simon Painter’s comments echo mine; specifically: “The other major problem I had with it was that the SF element wasn't essential to the story, by changing just a few words the alien city could have been Cairo, Delhi or any number of other Third World cities.”

The current episode, “The Giving Plague” will keep me listening because it has the qualities of SF that interest me.

I think S. Eley is doing a lot of work for a genre of writing he loves.  He also has the power to influence writers for the simple fact he is paying them for their work and giving them exposure.  I would hope that Mr. Eley would pod cast more stories that have an emphisis on the science for two reasons.  First, the selfish reason that I like it.  Second and more importantly I think SF has the power to entertain, educate, inform, spark the imagination, and inspire the young.  But it will be none of those things if it is not based on good science first and we do not ask for it.  I am asking for it.

Thank you

*This is not an easy aspect to develop; it takes special qualities - e.g.  Curiosity; challenging oneself to explore new fields; understanding what is being said and their implication.
« Last Edit: June 29, 2007, 07:40:37 PM by Dex »

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Reply #11 on: June 29, 2007, 08:02:38 PM
Wow.  I think Jonathon Sullivan is my new favorite Escape Pod reader.  He not only read the story, he performed it.  I loved the accents and the subtle emotions in the character's voices.  Great job.

The story itself I thought started out very well.  Half way through I was thinking "Why isn't this a Hugo nominee?"  But by the end it had fallen, flat, I think, mostly through loss of focus.

The narrator primes us with talk about how viruses seem purposive, clever, devious, so that we have a foreboding feeling that ALAS is more than what it seems.  When it was revealed that ALAS controls the behavior of its hosts, I felt suspense, waiting to see just what the virus had in "mind" to do and what it would signify.  It seemed like there was this hidden power stalking humanity for some purpose, but what?  ALAS was set up to be almost a third character, which would have been fascinating.

But then the focus goes out the window.  We are introduced in short order to two new, far more serious viruses, while ALAS is relegated to being a motive for a murder the narrator never gets around to committing.  After it's strong introduction, ALAS turns out to be almost irrelevant, and the narrator never ends up doing anything other than exactly what was expected of him.

There is the subtle irony of the narrator's final choices: He ends up doing exactly what ALAS would have compelled him to do, even though he takes pains to avoid infection.  We're left with the nice riddle of whether ALAS really beat him or not, but that is scant satisfaction after the intrigue promised by the strong beginning.

What would have been breathtaking, and where I thought the story was actually going, is if Tarp (the Mars virus) and ALAS had actually been related to each other.  The purpose of ALAS would have been to get people cooperating so that they could get to Mars, where they would pick up Tarp.  Thus, ALAS would actually have been a viral weapon, which would have been quite a nasty twist.

Hear my very very short story on The Drabblecast!


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Reply #12 on: June 29, 2007, 08:34:21 PM
I liked the story.  I think the POV in the story did not work well for audio.  To me, the story was meant to be read as a letter written to the virus on the narrator's death bed, and this did not carry well to audio.  Although Sully did a great job in the reading, every time he said "you" it just felt wrong.

But this is not a perfect world and I really enjoyed this story; and doubt I would have ever read it on my own, so thanks for another great week of top notch SF.


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Reply #13 on: June 30, 2007, 03:17:01 AM
I have to say that this story didn't work for me.  As opposed to Dex, I don't care so much about the science aspect as long as it's a really good story.  I guess my emphasis would be science fiction.  I almost tuned out after the first chapter of this one.  It seemed like just science speculation without any narrative drive, and I never felt like the story really kicked in.  It just kind of dragged along for too long and didn't really go anywhere.

It's odd, I suppose, that I loved last week's story "Mayfly", about which much of the same could be said, but for whatever reason, I was hooked by that character and that concept.  This one didn't work for me.  However, I thought the reading was done quite nicely, and by no means am I soured on Escape Pod.  I'm always happy for a new story.


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Reply #14 on: July 01, 2007, 01:05:11 AM
Hey Dex, could to have you aboard - let's just hope Mike Resnick doesn't read other story's threads ;)

I liked the sciene part of the story, and the character was very interesting.  My problem with the story is a very much a personal one.  I have trouble enjoying stories where I wouldn't "get along" with the protagonist.  I found that I disliked the guy so much that I hoped he failed.  Same thing with Now +n, Now -n. 


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Reply #15 on: July 01, 2007, 03:49:05 AM
I too enjoyed the story, as well as the reader.  It didn't end up as I was expecting it.  I figured the main character was going to get into some accident and need a blood transfusion.  I liked the way the story really went and not what I was expecting.


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Reply #16 on: July 01, 2007, 04:08:48 AM
This was a great freakin story- and narration.  Thank you Mr Brin, Mr. Sullivan and Escapepod!


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Reply #17 on: July 02, 2007, 05:56:36 AM
My first post.

Is the protagonist hero, anti-hero or unreliable narrator? I'm not sure how to say what I'm thinking...

So many things once called vice or immoral are now understood through evolutionary psychology. I'm not unfaithful, I'm following a biological imperative. I'm not a selfish capitalist, I'm insuring the success of my offspring. Modern man struggles to be free from obligation to superstition, religion, moral law, whatever you want to call it. And there is doubtless something to be considered in this.

A heard a theologin once reply, when asked about the problem of evil, that what challenged him more was the problem of good. The virus in this story reduces virtue, or at least world-changing virtue,  to a function of biology as well.

Is there no more room for good, if not for God? The protagonist did good of his own self will, while the sick were compelled to do good.

If the narrator is unreliable, then I find this story very depressing. I can't cheer for the virus that forces altruism and reduces man to automaton. I'd much rather struggle against "evil" in the world and my own heart and retain my humanity. Are we capable of nothing more than the sum of our biology?

I don't feel that the author is saying this. I think he either left the question open, or our protagonist is a true anti-hero, struggling to retain his humanity.

Having said all that, I loved this story and it challenged me enought to want to post here. Keep up the great fiction.
« Last Edit: July 02, 2007, 06:30:53 AM by 7by12 »


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Reply #18 on: July 02, 2007, 06:21:38 AM
Irony: The protagonist becomes altruistic while warding against a virus that would force altruism him.

Irony: ALAS induced altruism paves the way to a much more deadly plague.

Irony: Science frees mankind from virtue obligations to superstition, science fiction posits virtue obligations to biological puppeteers.

Irony: Dr. Jonathan Sullivan criticises Spiderman 3 for making evil something alien and external (rightly so), then narrates a fiction piece that (possibly) does the same for good.

Whew, had to get that out. Sorry for the double post.


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Reply #19 on: July 02, 2007, 10:35:51 AM
I think what Steve meant when he called the narrator "unreliable" is not that the narrator is wrong, and really has ALAS. Rather, it's the narrator is wrong when he says "I'm a bad man".