Equal parts medical thriller and horror novel, "A Selfish Gene" takes the reader into a plausible and gritty roller coaster ride through the zombie apocalypse. Dark, intelligent and clever, this book is a must read.
In a previously undiscovered pond in the rain forests of South America, a parasite lurks, waiting for the perfect host. When humans bathe in the pool, they are infected and return to their respective home countries setting off a pandemic like no other. This parasite takes over the brain turning its host into a zombie. As public health officials scramble to contain the spread of the infection, the parasite moves through humanity toward a chilling ending.
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Excerpt from the novel
There was no great forum or nuclear meltdown, not a single alarm or Klaxon went off on the day the world as we know it ended. No men in uniforms rushed hither and thither checking doorways or exterminating anything at all with extreme prejudice. That would all come later, in places that were dreaming and did not yet know what the future was planning.
Those were not the kind of emergencies Dr. Randall Haskell, MD dealt with. In fact half his job was getting those in crisis to take him seriously. As an epidemiologist for the World Health Organization, his job was to try to get people to take their medicine.
And frankly, he was almost completely burned out. Yesterday biting his tongue had not stopped it from coming out.
“Whatever,” he screamed in broken Spanish at the woman – no, little girl barely 17 – “Fine, don’t take the medication, but Syphilis is a hard way to die.”
The girl had cried and he’d felt like a total shit bag, which he knew he was. He remembered for a second that fresh faced resident he’d once been turning down the position at John’s Hopkins because he’s wanted to save the world. He reminisced about the bitter Chief of Staff looking over the half moon glasses perched on his tiny, angular nose telling him. “You’ll regret this some day in a flea infested hotel in the middle of nowhere.” Now, as he dropped exhausted to the cot in Columbia, he called the man a prophet and again beat himself up for his lack of compassion.
He had taken this job, despite all the possibility in front of him and honor heaped on him by the establishment. Randy was a diagnostician by nature, a detective and was a damned fine doctor, too. He could look at people and tell you what was wrong with them by the cant of their head, or the swelling of the eyes. There was something about the way his brain worked that brought to him patterns that told stories.
He was a humble man by nature and liked to stay out of the limelight, but the truth was, he’d stopped the Apocalypse a time or two.
Now, though, he’d spent too many days on the back side of the third world and the heat and humidity and jungle smell were grating on his nerves.
He was not a child anymore; the high side of forty brought with it a sprinkling of silver to his black hair and laugh lines around his crystal blue eyes. The dark horn rimmed glasses and oily sheen of the slicked back hair made him look like Ward Cleaver. He was tall, though and broad shouldered and his body was hard from living, not from working out in a gym.
He had trekked over most of the world, climbed into epochal valleys where he would have not been surprised to find a dinosaur and had been to communities where no one had ever seen a white man before. His had been a good life and he had enjoyed every moment of it. He felt he had a pretty good story to tell God when they finally met, which would be sooner rather than later.
He’d diagnosed himself, had not as yet spoken of it to his colleagues but he didn’t really need to. He knew the symptoms. He had difficulty conjuring words, not all the time, just now and then. There was a dull ache deep behind his eyes. Today had been the clincher, snapping at that girl. His impulse control was going. He figured he might have a few good years left.
It was not Alzheimer’s. That wasn’t the brain disorder that had taken his mother; that corrupted his otherwise pristine genetic legacy. This was Pick’s disease. Tau proteins were, even as he sat there, collecting in his frontal lobe and shrinking and eliminating the part of his brain that made him human. He had watched his mother die from it. He hated to admit it, but a certain terror accompanied the revelation.
There were standard tests of course, EEG, MRI, but here in the jungle things like that were not available. Not that he needed them. He was, as it has been said, a gifted diagnostician. He could look in the patient’s eyes and see it. He had just this evening as he had tiredly raked the brush across his teeth.
In two weeks he would be fifty, the dead center of the range for symptoms to appear. Randy had a friend from medical school and they had just spoken. Both men, so often linked by friendship or profession were now linked in paradox.
Peter too had just diagnosed himself. Parkinson’s. So as Peter’s body deteriorated, so would Randy’s mind. Both men had agreed, Randy would go back to New York, rent an apartment or even stay with Peter and his family until… he and Peter had finished falling apart together.
The bitterness of the moment caught in his throat and he let it go this time, the long, hot, fruitless tears he had been holding back for a life spent in hot zones watching people waste away as he himself now would. He let them go and wept like a child and hated the venom that burned his throat. He screamed in his head, screamed at God and at irony, a life spent saving others using medicine was being quenched by an untreatable disease, a brain so gifted and peculiar, so singular and agile, was literally melting away, and would be incapable of even comprehending itself in a few short years.
He was losing the one thing he could not bear to lose, his sentience.
Randall Haskell, MD, holder of several complementary advanced degrees, Cum Laude, man of letters and awards lay in his tiny cot in the middle of the South American rain forest and wept himself to sleep.