EP112: The Giving Plague

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

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

Comments (31)

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  1. Lumsden says:

    Here’s my downloaded episode:

    503 Service Temporarily Unavailable

    Service Temporarily Unavailable

    The server is temporarily unable to service your
    request due to maintenance downtime or capacity
    problems. Please try again later.

  2. Mark says:

    I too am getting this error when I try to download the MP3 file. I had a similar problem last week (might have been the week before that) and it took a couple of days of checking back before I could get the file.

  3. SFEley says:

    Yes, sorry folks. My Web host is telling me we’re exceeding their capacity all of a sudden. I’ll work on this — meanwhle the file’s been moved to an alternate location that might be slow, but hopefully won’t error out.

  4. Mark says:

    Ah, the curse of popularity.

    Slow is fine so long as I can still pull down the file, thanks for fixing it!

  5. Ed says:

    David Brin is one of my favorite authors and I loved this story. By the way, I am a blood banker working in Austin, TX an I can tell you that this was very well researched with but one exception: American Red Cross does not take donations in Austin. That’s it. Outside of that, I could believe all the aspects of this fascinating story and will recommend it to all my peers.

  6. Lumsden says:

    The file downloaded this morning. I look forward to listening later today. Thanks for addressing the technical issue.

  7. A.H. says:

    I normally dont comment on things I figure you should only say something if it’s important and the internet causes too much small talk and chit chat already anyway.

    that having been said, this is by far my favorite of the Escape Pod stories. Helps that I am a science buff anyway and always enjoy a good story that has solid scientific background. But more than that it’s the fact that the character reminded me of Camus’ The Outsider. He’s not a hero and while it is easy to perhaps lable him as ‘evil’ (in the crudest term) he’s probably the most human character I’ve come across in a while.

    Thanks for a really good and solid story.

  8. Alasdair says:

    This story is actually one of my earliest memories. It blew me away back then and it did the same thing today. Brilliantly put together, devastatingly simple and blisteringly clever. Made my day:)

  9. I absolutely loved this story. That’s my simple review.
    Now, for a slightly more involved comment: This struck me as being really well written story style-wise. The narrator’s sporadic descent into addressing the viruses really gives him a great deal of dimension, as well as adding some variety to the narrative, which works tremendously.
    The antihero narrator’s presentation in such a negative light, right up until the conclusion, struck me as very effective, and it really made me smile at the end. As an eternal cynic with a secret faith in humanity myself, it was a very uplifting ending to a thought-provoking tale.

  10. Interesting stuff! I didn’t catch the date of original publication and had no trouble believing it was very recent. A lot of the genetic ideas sound pretty cutting-edge to me even today, though I’m no pro.

    The weak link IMHO is that between the virus’s immediate effect on an infected person and the posited large-scale social effects.

    Oh, and I like Sully’s accents!

    “His accents mild took up the tale:
    He said ‘I go my ways,
    And when I find a mountain-rill,
    I set it in a blaze;
    And thence they make a stuff they call
    Rowland’s Macassar-Oil —
    Yet twopence-halfpenny is all
    They give me for my toil.'”

    L. Carroll

  11. naming says:

    could someone place the narrators accent for me?

  12. sullydog says:

    That was Sullydog’s best attempt at Winchester and Austin. I’m sure both can be skewered as less than authentic, so I’ll just put that out there right now so the conversation can move along….

  13. John hodges says:

    Thanks Steve and Sullydog! I enjoyed your production of this great story. An excellent choice for Escape Pod. I was deferred as a blood donor around the same time this was originally published and it prompted some self reflection as I took up ARC Disaster Services volunteering instead. That deferral lasted 16 years, but I’m back to donating again.

    Thanks, also for your kind words about the Heinlein Society drives at SF cons. I’m glad to hear you had a good experience at Balticon. You and your listeners may be interested in a discussion about the pros and cons of Heinlein Society drives at SF cons developing on the Arisia08 new programming discussion thread:


    Enjoy! (My frequent tag line.)

  14. John hodges says:

    Oh, and great timing, too! This coming weekend marks the Heinlein Centennial in St. Louis:

    Yes, there will be a blood drive. Enjoy!

  15. David says:

    I’m rather surprised that earlier commenters liked this story so much. I found it rather dull… a passable plot element (the benevolent virus angle) with not enough story built around it. Thank goodness for Sully’s accents to vary the rhythm. Otherwise, this felt like a tedious monologue from a tiresome character.

  16. Gary H says:

    Loved the reading, story was so-so. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen. It was just a little too long winded. I didn’t need 45 minutes to hear the main character say “You won’t get me you dirty little benevolent virus!”

    I also didn’t buy that the main character was really a self-serving prick. I don’t see people who study vectors as that selfish. People as selfish as he wanted you to think he was are politicians, not scientist.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I’m kinda with David here … interesting ideas, and the character arrives at an interesting place in the end … but along the way, this felt more like a science lecture than a story.

  18. savetherobot says:

    I loved this one – I like stories with strong character development, and this protagonist was intriguing. The parallels between the lead characters and the viruses were ace, and while I thought the last two plagues were abrupt – wait, Mars? Huh? – I was willing to go with it.

  19. Ethan says:

    I’m a long time listener, but I’ve never felt the urge to leave a comment until now. Loved it. When it comes to Sci-Fi, I’m more interested in the Fiction then the Science. I like my stories to have more character and plot. If the science is sound then so much the better, but I don’t really care. For this reason I’ve always steered away from David Brin, I’ve heard that he’s heavy on the science. But after hearing this story I think I will change my mind and pick up one of his books. I found the science of this story was described in such a way that it was compelling, it didn’t leave me in the dust and it was interesting to listen to. The characters were strong and rich with complications. After he said he was gong commit murder, I figured I could guess the rest of the story, but Brin took a nice turn it was unexpected and kept my interest. Thank you for changing my mind about this author.

    BTW I too had difficulty downloading this story, I had to do it twice as the MP3 cut off half way through.

  20. Damon says:

    I was ecstatic to see this appear on Escape Pod. Brin is one of my favorite authors and I recommended Escape Pod to him when I sent him fan mail!

    The most amazing thing to me is that this story was written in 1987, but still fresh as Martin testifies above!

    Steve, thanks again for this wonderful source for great stories!

  21. Aimée says:

    I loved this story, ironicaly I listened to it just a few hours before I was scheduled to give blood. To say the least it didn’t deter me at all. Thanks alot Steve!

  22. Todd says:

    I was a bit surprised to hear this sort of story on Escape Pod, given the high “science lecture quotient” on which other people have commented. Personally, I loved it, as I work in biological research. Many of the narrator’s comments on the politics of academia and research are spot-on, and it’s fun to hear it depicted so well. The plauability of the science combined with the coolness of the idea and the moral ambiguity of the narrator made for a great story.

  23. Robin Sure says:

    Just checking, but was the plague called ‘alas’ deliberately? Nice contrast if it was.

  24. Dave (aka Nev the Deranged) says:

    I liked the complexity of the narrator’s humanity- even he didn’t seem 100% sure of his motivations all the time- even if he had convinced himself he was. Sully’s accents were fun, altho the narrator’s accent wavered a few times, the story was compelling enough that I could easily forgive, especially since I can’t do accents at all. I was a little disappointed we never found out what TARP stood for, since the narrator made a point of telling us the other acronyms. The story ended a little abruptly, and one could argue that “nothing happened”, but by the time it came around I had already concluded that it was going to be “that kind of story”, so I was prepared for it. As I said, the complexity of human nature is always intriguing stuff.

    Thanks for another great story!

  25. Hail!

    What do you think about Tokio Hotel? >:)

  26. Scatterbrained says:

    A bit too hard S/F for me, but a mind boggling good and brilliantly written story all the same.

  27. Thank you very much for the great information-

  28. […] listened to the Escapepod story ‘The Giving Plague‘, today, and it started me thinking on some old ideas of mine. Firstly, yes I know I’m […]

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