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Monday, September 13, 2010

Where Do You Get Your Ideas - Part 3

by Guy Stewart
Part One | Part Two
Some months ago, I promised Bruce I’d write an article if he gave me a book. Rather than the usual “review” thing, I challenged myself and told him I’d not only write an article, I’d generate one hundred science fiction or fantasy ideas from said book. Then I’d throw them into the ether and see if anything came of them.

Ahem…just so you know, I failed my challenge.

The book Bruce sent me was an uncorrected proof of Jonathan Engel’s THE EPIDEMIC: A Global History of AIDS. Among other reasons for my interest was the fact that my brother-in-law Dan had AIDS for over a decade, and yes, I wrote what I meant, he had AIDS. No, I do not mean he was HIV positive. I mean, he had AIDS, full blown with symptoms and various and sundry opportunistic infections that come with an AIDS compromised immune system. Because he was part of a massive research program through the University of Minnesota, and because he never gave up and was determined to beat the demon, Dan survived his AIDS infection. He got it through a blood transfusion because of some accident or another in the mid-1980s. Dan has been a hemophiliac since conception.

The book intrigued me and though I tried for an even 100 ideas, all I have to offer you is an odd 75 that were sparked by reading this book. Because I don’t want to overwhelm you (or bore you) with all 75 at once, I’m giving it to you in three parts. I’d also give a bit of history, but if you don’t know anything about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, then go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AIDS (No matter what you think of Wikipedia, I contend that it’s a good place to START.)

All right then, to continue:

# 51 – Various myths circulated during this time to rebut the widely held notion that AIDS originated in Africa: Western scientists created a virus to kill all black people in the US and Africa; AIDS came back with the Lunar missions; AIDS was an escaped virus from the US germ warfare program; white folk firmly believed that AIDS was imaginary; AIDS was a fiction created by American drug companies to make cheap, fake drugs to sell; all because AIDS didn’t behave the way viruses “always had”. What if ONE of the above was true? Write a speculative fiction piece using: a) A white doctor in Minneapolis is visited by a dying African man transported from 2010 ; b) A racist black doctor from 1990 Lagos, Nigeria is magicked from his home by a white voodoo priestess living in Del Ray Beach, Florida.

#52 – “…most experts agreed [Africa] was the point of origin for AIDS….[it] had jumped species in central Africa…festered in relative isolation….spread to Haiti through…Haitian mercenaries…in Zaire. From Haiti, gay Americans…carried the virus to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York…” What if a time traveler broke ONE of these links?

#53 – “In South Africa…corrugated iron shacks, adjacent to urban areas…[were] slums in which only one child in 40 attended school.” What if moderate Muslims from Saudi Arabia entered these shantytowns and set up schools?

#54 – “In 1988, Nigeria refused to admit to any AIDS cases at all…” What if in a stunning move, a wealthy, influential Nigerian Muslim health minister reversed the gag order and called for help from the world promising 100% of Nigerian crude for one month to the nation that helped MOST.

#55 – “…an orphaned teenager in South Africa fought off relatives who tried to…take his family [him and the surviving younger siblings] homestead…upon his mother’s death…‘It’s as if we don’t exist…” Pat Atkinson, an American missionary in Guatemala hears of the boy’s plight and adopts them all initiating a wave of ‘personalized assistance through African churches supported by Brazilian, American and Australian sponsors…and the boy gets an education all the way to a PhD which he uses to…

#56 – “Remarked one traditional healer after completing THETA (Traditional and Health Practitioners Together Against AIDS) education: ‘The training was useful. I can now diagnose HIV/AIDS related sickness without calling on the spirits.’” How was this play out?

#57 – “Zimbabwe, with possibly the fastest-growing epidemic on earth, faced a decline of life expectancy from 61 years in 1993 to 49 years by 2000.” What if a Billy Graham-style Zimbabwean evangelist appeared, cutting across tribal barriers with a message of faith in Christ as well as a firey commitment to purity?

#58 – “…the individual most responsible for the breakthrough was David Ho…turn[ing] his investigative acumen [to AIDS research] excited him both professionally and intellectually. Ho’s brilliance was amplified by his recruitment to direct the…Diamond AIDS Research Center…” What if he’d fallen in love and gotten married…right then?

#59 – [The drug treatments were] expensive: hugely so…a typical AIDS patient could easily exceed $20000 per year…for denizens of rich countries…per capita medical expenditures in sub-Saharan Africa hovering at $5 per year…” What if treatment for all AIDS patients had been mandated and a deep jungle traditional healer devised a way to make the medication flow from developed nation patients into Africans under his care?

#60 – “By 1996…protease or reverse transcriptase inhibitors…quickly promoted resistance, and within a year of wide-scale adoption of combination therapy resistant strains of HIV were being observed in nearly 50% of patients.” What if THIS combination worked, stopping AIDS after a 1 year treatment – but the treatment cost $100000? Who would get it (Obviously certain people would…and certain others wouldn’t…)? Would it make it into the hemophilia community? What if the largest stockpile was taken hostage by a group from ACT UP?

#61 – “…the Lazarus Effect experienced by many patients on combination therapy…patients presumed to have only a few years to life found themselves with years…decades of life ahead of them…” What if the combination produced ultra-healthy undead zombie folk still capable of infecting others but living normal (though rotting-flesh-colored) lives?

#62 – “…an Australian blood donor found to be HIV positive turned out to possess a rare mutation of the virus that…failed to progress to…AIDS…provide a template for a live vaccine? …others feared that given HIV’s high rate of mutation, the benign viral form…through an inoculation program…might change to a…virulent one.” What if scientists found a “mutation blocker” that got into human DNA and stopped evolution in its tracks? Call the story, “Come Toast the End of Evolution”.

#63 – “The continued epidemic in the IV-drug-using population was particularly troubling…this group [was] so compromised in life skills and decision-making processes that they would remain insensitive to essentially all public health measures.” So the French Health Ministry created a corps of voodoo healers and created a curse attached to AIDS. Ghosts appeared at drug deals. Monsters haunted the slums and horrible stories circulated that a new for of AIDS was making zombies and vampires of innocent drug users and people would actually eat their children. This proved so effective in France and the rest of Europe that an American doctor who is a confessed and ardent atheist is drafted to create an equivalent program here…

#64 – “People were living longer…gay men relaxed their guards upon recognizing that AIDS no longer constituted a death sentence.” Then a secret Catholic organization introduced a drug said to cure AIDS – and give the highest high ever…

#65 – “Too many viewed [AIDS] as the gay man’s diabetes – somewhat unpleasant, but eminently treatable and largely inconsequential.” What if a side-effect of this was that research monies earmarked for AIDS suddenly dried up just as they did when AIDS research took money from diabetes research in the early 1980s?

#66 – “President Clinton refused to lift a federal funding ban on needle exchanges…” which is linked by the media to a rejection of gay rights. So, Clinton gets slammed by the liberal/gay/AIDS activists so hard that his private life never comes to light because Monica feels so bad for him. Clinton wins an unprecedented third term with a promise to turn the government over to his wife, Hilary Clinton – and 9/11/2001 is his baby.

#67 – “Eugene Rivers, a Boston-based minister…wrote an open letter to African Americans urging them to focus efforts and resources on the ‘needs and interests of missions of orphans in Africa…12 million Africans have already died…you should stand up with moral outrage!” This was taken up as a battle cry for many African Americans and over a billion dollars made their way to Africa’s hardest hit cities. But a child whose parents gave away his inheritance is angry. So angry – and a little mentally disturbed – that goes to that place and…

#68 – “Education efforts had been stymied by continued black skepticism about the very nature of the epidemic...As late as 1999, blacks still expressed heightened suspicions that AIDS have been maliciously created by white scientists…” What if a group of black scientists created a real, whites-only virus and released it on the world, inadvertently killing any black person who had any white genetic material in them. What is the world AFTER the even like?

#69 – Same quote as above, but what if it was Haitian voodoo priests who laid the AIDS curse on rich black Americans? When the truth is discovered in 2012, write a story about what happens when a wealthy black student and a poor Haitian student on a scholarship meet and room together at Yale.

#70 – “Vowing to seek a homegrown African remedy [to the AIDS] threat and calling pro-pharmaceutical protesters ‘paid marketing agents for toxic AIDS drugs from America,” South African president Thabo Mbeki authorized his subordinates to use ‘native’ African approaches in responding.” What if one of the cures worked and effectively destroyed the virus in Africa – and they kept it for themselves?

#71 – “The mass migration of highly trained and gifted engineers and scientists from third to first world nations exemplified the desire of most people to capitalize on their creative powers rather than simply donate them to the common good…” A massive thrust for a one-world government to more effectively deal with the AIDS crisis is successful when it keeps genius where it is found. To the horror of the watching world, genius was abruptly snuffed out. Write a story about “The Last Genius”.

#72 – “While the Communist government had been able to substantially reduce prostitution in the 1950s, it had been unable and unwilling to stem heroin use…it proved to be the entry point for the disease…by 2001, 70% of IV users in [Yunan Province] were infected with HIV.” What if a time traveler went back, back, back in time and with a powerful herbicide, destroyed the proto-Papaveraceae, the plant that would become the poppy? What would she find when she returned home?

#73 – “In Russia in 2001, public health indicators pointed to a society in crisis on multiple fronts: healthwise, economically, morally and socially.” What if absolute morality, enforced by the world government of #71, held sway. What “morals” is it based on? What is the story of a young, evangelical Russian moralist who arose, who was also a doctor and had premonitions?

#74 – “A few smaller companies did direct resources at vaccine development…AIDSVax appeared to be effective in 40% of patients.” What if that was 93%, you were the company’s head researcher and a drug company agent offered you unlimited cash – and your brother and your best friend were gay?

#75 – “Rather a simple, reliable, long-acting, robust vaccination, available in injectable or oral form, was the only possible solution to the international AIDS pandemic…the best that Western medicine had to offer was simply not good enough.” So, an evil villain develops a vaccine and dangles it before a hurting world yet no one can find him or challenge him – except you, who have had the power to fly, leap tall buildings and have several other “super” powers. You have been brought up in a Tibetan monastery and while trained to use your powers, you long ago reach Buddhahood. Do you act – why, why not and what are your struggles?

So there you have it, the final 25 ideas – I’m not taking votes on whether they are good, bad, or indifferent they are simply here for your delectation. If they spark a different idea, cool! If a viable story comes from any of these ideas, I ask that you include my name in some form (forward, backward, first name, middle name, curse of power, name of a cow or pet rat, whatever) – oh, and let me know about it, too; I’d sort of like to keep track of what grows from these seeds.

All quotes above are from THE EPIDEMIC: A Global History of AIDS © 2006 Jonathan Engle. The following pages of the Uncorrected Proof are referenced:

#51 – p 207; #52 – p 211 ; #53 – p 216, #54 – p 222; #55 – p 223; #56 – p 226; #57 – p 228; #58 – p 242; #59 – p 246; #60 – p 248; #61 – p 249; #62 – p 250; #63 – p 268; #64 – p 269; #65 – p 272; #66 – p 277; #67 – p 286; #68 – p 281; #69 – p 287; #70– p 301; #71 – p 309; #72 – p 314; #73 – p 315; #74 – p 317; #75 – p 319
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