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The Giving Plague by David Brin

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“The Giving Plague” is a 1988 science fiction short story by David Brin. It is about a member of a famous research team that discovers a virus with a peculiar method of transmission.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

Rotavirus ReconstructionForry is an American microbiologist working in the UK as a member of Les Adgeson’s research team. Forry is very good in his own right, but Les is considered a “Boy Wonder” by his colleagues, and that is something that makes Forry both jealous and eager to attach his name to Les’s research. So when Les confides in Forry about a newly discovered virus with a potentially beneficial mode of transmission, Forry starts to make plans about taking all the credit. There is a little problem though, and that is the fact that viruses are very tricky and dangerous things – especially when research doesn’t always go in the direction one would like it to go!

Our Boy Genius was plenty savvy about the funding agencies. He knew they weren’t interested in paying us to prove we’re all partly descended from viruses. They wanted, and wanted badly, progress on ways to fight viral infections themselves.

So Les concentrated his team on vectors.

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.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • Personally I enjoyed all the talk about and descriptions of various viruses because I find microbiology topics to be fascinating – almost like a tiny alien world right here on Earth!
  • David Brin is a good writer, and even though he wrote “The Giving Plague” several years ago I still found the plot and dialog very engaging.
  • Another very cool thing about this story was its similarity to one of my favorite classic novels: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde . Even though the story lines are completely different, the method of narration and tone of the stories were quite similar. I enjoyed that “feel” very much.

• The bad:

  • There are a few instances of strong language to watch out for.
  • This is not an action story, so if you are the kind of person who doesn’t like long discussions about scientific research, then you may want to stay away from “The Giving Plague”.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 10
• Word Count: 7,031
“The Giving Plague” garnered the following awards:

  • It won the 1989 Interzone Poll.
  • It placed 4th in the 1989 Locus Poll for short story.
  • It was nominated for the 1989 Hugo Award for Best Short Story.

Where you can find “The Giving Plague”:

  • This short story first appeared in the Spring 1988 issue of Interzone (#23).
  • “The Giving Plague” is included in David Brin’s excellent collection of short stories called Otherness .
  • You can read a free online version of “The Giving Plague” at David Brin’s website.

Some Interesting Links:

  • I recently took a microbiology course at the local university – and I’m glad I did because understanding the concept of vectors helped me to enjoy “The Giving Plague” more.
  • In case you don’t know, the constant references to “Stockholm” in this story are referring to the Nobel Prize award ceremony which takes place each December in that city.
  • David Brin is a famous contemporary author of science fiction. You can learn more about him by reading the biography page on his website.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like The Green Leopard Plague, about a genetically altered mermaid who is researching why the founder of her modern society went missing for three weeks, by Walter Jon Williams.