Monday, February 3, 2014

The Moses Virus

Idgie Says:
Another book that got away from me in my giant pile of TBR's.  But, who doesn't like a book with a devastating world virus, power seekers and the Vatican?!  Jack has a little essay below on where the idea for the novel came from and that in itself is a pretty gripping tale. 


The Moses Virus
Jack Hyland 
Rowman & Littlefield / TaylorTrade
January 17, 2014

Modern-day Rome: Two American archaeologists suddenly die in an underground passageway in the Roman Forum leading to the buried rooms of Emperor Nero's Golden Palace. The Italian authorities conclude the deaths were caused by a devastating and highly contagious virus. Tom Stewart, an NYU forensic archaeologist who was present when the deaths occurred, becomes entangled in the race to find the supply of the virus-a race involving many powerful players desperately seeking the deadly contagion. Stewart must find and destroy the virus before others harness its sinister power.

The Vatican, foreign groups, the world's largest genetic seed manufacturer-all have their reasons, and none will stop until they succeed, no matter the cost or risk to millions of people if the virus escapes and causes a pandemic.

Below is  an essay by Jack about the real-life incident that sparked the idea for a thriller based on a pandemic.

Gods and Monsters
by Jack Hyland, author of The Moses Virus

Some years ago, I sat at breakfast in one of the cabins at the Bohemian Grove, a property of 2,700 acres amid the giant redwood trees in Monte Rio, California. Each summer there is a two-week encampment of some of the most powerful men in the world. My companion was a distinguished banker and also a former leader in global finance. A third person at our table was one of the most venerated of all news broadcasters. At the Bohemian Grove this particular year were Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Henry Kissinger, Helmut Schmidt, the heads of IBM, Bristol Myers, McDonald’s to name only a few. It was the year when Jane Fonda marched up and down outside the front gates demonstrating to get women invited to the Grove.

The talk over breakfast was not about Jane, but about what the banker described as the “crisis of Africa.”

“The situation is hopeless,” the banker said.

“What do you mean?” asked the broadcaster.

“I’ve given up,” came the reply. “I’ve worked hard to improve the state of the people in a number of the African countries.  America and the Europeans ship them our best new medicines which prolong lives and reduce infant mortality.  This means a rapidly increasing population.  They want more children to help them grow enough food to eat.”

“Don’t we send money for food?” the broadcaster asked

“We do, but it never gets there,” the banker replied.  The politicians grab it before it ever reaches the population. There is an endless cycle of starvation and an ever increasing population more and more of whom will soon be starving.”

“Is there no solution?” the banker was asked.

He sighed. Then the banker said, “This sounds heartless, but I’ve concluded that we need a devastating disease to sweep the continent. Let the forces of nature decide who lives and who doesn’t.”

Dead silence followed. Neither the broadcaster nor I could think how to continue this impossible train of thought.  The banker having made his declaration didn’t want to be argued with, so he didn’t mind when we politely ended the breakfast and all headed in different directions to one presentation or another. 

Later, the broadcaster grabbed me by the arm and we walked through the massive redwood tree forest. 

“What did you think?” the broadcaster asked.

“About a devastating disease decimating Africa?” I asked.

“He’s lost his mind. No one knows it. He must have been horribly frustrated by the good work his bank tried to do and couldn’t get done. Worse—he really means it.  Let’s hope some unimaginable virus doesn’t fall into his hands. He just might use it.”

Now, it’s important to note that I didn’t expect the world banker to act on his exasperation.  I’m fairly certain that had the occasion arisen where he could have had access to a devastating virus he would not have done anything as rash or unconscionable as loose the weapon on the world’s population.

On the other hand, there are those moments when everything combines into that perfect storm, and some person, a very powerful man or woman, perhaps, takes action.

One of these moments becomes a major thread in my thriller, The Moses Virus. 
Horrific events are set up to happen.

Despite the perfect storm that might destroy, our world has a strange countervailing force that never seems to exist in advance of a crisis but appears because of that crisis.  It is the force we call “coping,” when some one, a potentially great leader, senses that he or she must act to thwart the imminent danger.  History is filled with such extraordinary heroes, gods, perhaps, against the monsters.

What would our world be like if Adolf Hitler had been unopposed by a man like Winston Churchill who virtually singlehandedly stood up against Germany, and gradually engaged the rest of the world, which eventually brought Hitler down?

Out there, in every society, there are highly talented men and women running businesses, academic institutions, governments.  There are also major opportunities for human endeavor, some of which have the capacity to be good ideas but carry risks which could become catastrophic later. Here are just a few: The particle accelerator in Geneva, under the auspices of CERN, which also gave us the world wide web.  The accelerator is now operational, flinging particles around a 16.9 mile track at ever faster speeds, closing in on the speed of light.  This is being done in the name of science.  But is there a chance—even a very slight chance—that one of the experiments could start a perverse chain reaction that could wreak havoc? Who debates this issue, and who takes responsibility if something does go wrong?

Within the last ten years, scientists found the DNA traces of a virus, called the Spanish Flu of 1918-19.  This virus killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people in virtually every country in that two-year period, then went away.  What, then, is the moral justification for re-constituting this all time greatest killer?  The virus now sits at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta under refrigeration. Recently, scientists have aerosolized virus which makes it much more potent.  Why? Who weighs the risks?

Still another quandary:  It is true that the world’s population, now estimated at 7.1 billion, is projected to be 8 billion by 2025 and 9 ½ billion by 2050. If one-eighth of the present population (870 million) is starving (chronically under-nourished), virtually all of whom (852 million) are in the developing countries, how will the much larger population in 2025 or 2050 be fed?

This issue of population growth is a two-headed problem.  If we can contain the population growth, do we lose the economic dynamism upon which our economies depend?  More and more older people will be alive—how will they be provided for?

Or, if the population does in fact increase as projected, where will the food come from?  One answer, touted by some global companies, is to promote genetically altered seeds so that hyper-growth of agricultural products can feed the increasing world population.  But, might there be some surprises down the road regarding genetic seed manipulation?  Some unintended consequences? What then?

The Moses Virus imagines a phenomenally capable and driven business executive who becomes thwarted in his drive to supply food to a rising world population.  A solution to his frustrations drops into his field of vision in the form of a terrifying virus.  Might possession of this virus and the use of it, solve all his problems?

There are dangerous forces and circumstances that, one hopes, will always be held in restraint.  But The Moses Virus suggests that one man can in fact move the earth if he, like Archimedes said, can have a stick long enough, a fulcrum and a place to stand. Where in our societies are these matters discussed and debated?  Wisdom and an appreciation for the long-term consequences are essential to assuring that there is a healthy and long-term future for all mankind.

In The Moses Virus, there is at least one hero around who can and will rise to the occasion to set things right. The inspirational aspect of this story is that the hero didn’t think of himself as a hero.  Instead, he stood up when the situation had become so dangerous for him that failure to take action would likely be fatal for him. He does what he can to put things right, and he finds there are others who are ready to lend him a hand.