If I used Twitter…

I’m thinking of writing a novel where human civilization is threatened by a global pandemic, and is then almost singlehandedly rescued by one man … a man who reigned for decades as the world’s prototypical ruthless and arrogant tech billionaire, but who was then transformed by the love of his wife. That is, if the billionaire can make it past government regulators as evil as they are stupid. I need some advice: how can I make my storyline a bit subtler, so critics don’t laugh it off as some immature nerd fantasy?

Updates (April 5): Thanks to several commenters for emphasizing that the wife needs to be a central character here: I agree! The other thing is, I don’t want Fox News cheering my novel for its Atlas Shrugged vibe. So maybe the pandemic is only surging out of control in the US because of the incompetence of a Republican president? I don’t want to go ridiculously overboard, but like, maybe the president is some thuggish conman with the diction of a 5-year-old, who the deluded Republicans cheer anyway? And maybe he’s also a Bible-thumping fundamentalist? OK, that’s too much, so maybe the fundamentalist is like the vice president or something, and he gets put in charge of the pandemic response and then sets about muzzling the scientists? As I said, I really need advice on making the messages subtler.

58 Responses to “If I used Twitter…”

  1. Steve E Says:

    Throw in a second tech billionaire, but have this one be everything the first isn’t: a dreamer, renaissance man, charismatic in a nerdy way, devoted to helping humanity reduce its carbon footprint and explore the solar system, and have this character be one of the doofuses that gets in the way.

  2. Dan Says:

    You could have some sort of populist, narcissistic politician in charge of the regulators, as that would play into people’s preconceived biases in the age of Trump. On the other hand, that might distract from the lesson that there doesn’t need to be a big, visible “bad guy” in charge of things in order for regulators to do stupid, evil crap.

  3. Daniel Seita Says:

    What about if the billionaire is female, and is transformed by the love of her husband? It’s sometimes tiring to see the same gender stereotypes played out in novels and stories.

  4. marxbro Says:

    Tech-billionaires aren’t going to save you.

  5. Efnysien Says:

    I like Steve E’s suggestion. If you are feeling more macabre you could throw in a trumpian character. I have not seem a compelling depiction of what it feels like to be a vindictive, fact-denying narcissist. Unfortunately all of the antiheroes and villainous characters you tend to come across in literature have some thoroughly redeeming qualities. E.g. Satan in Paradise Lost /seems/ like a pretty inspiring fellow, and Smerdyakov in Brothers K is highly competent in his villainy. Where are the pages for the idiot-villain, and how can we portray his mental makeup? (Re pronouns, I have a hard time imagining a female in power stooping to trumpian depths of incompetence)

    For a fun quarantine read something along the lines of “love transforms everything” check out Quichotte by Salman Rushdie. The novel is firmly along the meta-fictional lines of the original Don Quijote. In Rushdie’s rendition, Sancho is an imaginary child, dreamed up by the TV-addled Quichotte who is actually an aging Muslim-Indian traveling salesman who unwittingly sells opiates for his cousin (modeled after the Purdue Pharma Sacklers). He awakes one day and realizes that all up until now has been for naught and that he must seek out his true love, an Oprah-esque TV superstar with bipolar disorder, and Quichotte and Sancho are off on a road trip across America to rival Travels with Charlie. There’s a lot more wild, wacky, and very funny bits, but what impressed me was how heartfelt the whole thing manages to be even though the bulk of the novel is thoroughly sarcastic.

  6. rupert Says:

    make the main character a vampire

  7. Doug Says:

    The other commenter has the right idea– you need to lean into the nerd fantasy. Have the nerds figure out what is going to happen weeks in advance, but be laughed at by the media. Have the president also be a billionaire, but one who understands nothing about tech, doesn’t like to read, acts like a bully, only wants to protect his money, a stereotypical fat cat.

  8. Jim Kukula Says:

    I’m thinking what we have here is how the machines take over the world. These evil idiots in power, what they do is keep adjusting their messages to maximize clicks on social media. This optimization algorithm is of course managed by Deep Learning AI etc. So these massive banks of servers that run the propaganda-surveillance world we now live in, they get the idea, hmmm, can’t we get the humans to mismanage the pandemic so badly that we can get them out of the way?

    Maybe the hero nerd can figure out a way to disconnect the internet from the social media bots and preserve the power of humans?

  9. Aaron Rotenberg Says:

    The thing to beware is that “capitalist just wants to save the world but is stymied by government regulations” by itself is pretty much in Atlas Shrugged territory, and somehow I’ve never gotten the impression that that aligns with your politics. The way to fix that is to add more antagonists and supporting characters from different groups.

    How about also throw in some other businesses and powerful media figures as secondary antagonists are just trying to exploit the situation for pure greed. Try to have the main character convert them to altruism and fail.

    Don’t have all your government officials be evil in the deliberate sense. Some, certainly, but not all. Many individuals in government bueracracy are well-intentioned; of those well-intentioned people, some are genuinely helpful—but don’t always have the necessary power to do much—and some are obstructive because they think they are doing the right thing even when they are causing problems or it’s unclear what the right thing is. (Case in point: I seriously doubt the WHO has been telling people not to wear face coverings in public because they were intentionally trying to cover up the severity of the situation or something. Maybe the CDC was bowing to administration pressure, but with most of the WHO screwups so far I’m inclined towards Hanlon’s Razor.)

  10. LuFa Says:

    Why not write a novel about a pandemic in a country that suffers from an additional mental condition called libertarianism. The citizens of this country hate and despise their government. They think it consists of evil and dumb people. They think everybody can be the head of state, and actually elect somebody with no experience in governing at all. The heroes of the novel would be the countless scientists, experts, and officials who try to keep the government working in the face of an onslaught of budget-cutting, neglect and active undermining by the new head of state. They only succeed partially. In a wonderful piece of self-fulfilling prophecy that country suffers the most deaths from the pandemic.

  11. Max Chaplin Says:

    I see two avenues you could take here:

    1. Replace the arrogant tech billionaire with a brave and irreverent congresswoman.

    2. Give the tech billionaire a powered armor suit and make the disease an alien techno-organic virus set upon Earth by an evil alien species. Anyone who would call an Iron Man vs. The Technarchy fanfic “immature” would be jeered at as a comic book hating snob.

  12. sneerclubber Says:

    Two honest questions, Scott:

    -Among all the people you could praise for warning in advance of the pandemic, why choose a tech billionaire who aids and abets dictatorships, abides by censorship, stifled the software industry for two decades, acted as the biggest copyright troll of the planet, abused patents and who is currently buying himself back a reputation through loads of PR and a foundation that mainly helps him evade taxes? I realize maybe you’re not aware of the extent of the harm these tech billionaires are capable to do (or indeed have done) so I’m more than willing to give you the benefit of the doubt (didn’t expect that from a self-avowed sneerclubber, right? :-). I also realize the present circumstances are making you and all the rest of us panic a bit, but maybe you could pause and reflect a bit before you shower already rich and powerful people with praise they don’t need or deserve?

    -Have you ever read ‘Atlas Shrugged’ by Ayn Rand? Maybe you don’t need to write your book after all.

  13. StraightBent Says:

    Easy, … 🙂
    Just assemble thinks you have said in Shtetl-optimized posts over the last (few ?) months,
    maybe even email other correspondents here to ask permission
    for their words to be included in a ‘work of fiction’, along with any citation
    details they may wish to provide to you to incorporate in the work,
    *name the actual persons trying to do what you narrate* ,
    build the actual / fictional plot,
    augment it with real-life hyperlinks for facts and folly,
    do not forget the standard publishing statement / clause:
    ‘This is a work of fiction; any similarity ….’

    Git commit, commit, commit, … .

    Publish excerpts in this blog.

    Publish the thing, as belonging to the genre ‘Nerd fantasy, I wish it were true’

    Build more ventilators / 3D printable face shields / whatever
    & distribute accordingly,
    using the donations received.

    Job done.

    I might do the same ….
    (Eng not my native tongue, but still …)

  14. StraightBent Says:

    If you will not name the actual people (why not? 🙂 ), then you may use the illustrious
    real-life personalities of
    Billy Doors, Don De Trampe, Yellone Molusk, Aaron Mascottson,
    to name only a few …

    I.e., make the work a ‘poioumenon’, as Carlyle did in “Sartor Resartus” for
    Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh
    and other characters / names / places therein …

    I hope my comments are not considered as aggravating / offensive / ironical or inappropriate
    in any way whatsoever … if this is the case, tell me, I will
    ask yer pardon, and I will post no more ….

  15. Sebastian Oberhoff Says:

    There’s going to be a LOT of pandemic books soon, just saying.

  16. JimV Says:

    You can take the ending from Soylent Green: “It’s people!” Because it is just people. Bear in mind though that a lot of the stupid regulators were appointed by Republican administrations, or at lower levels, hired by those appointees. On the other hand, sociopaths have a natural tendency to rise to the top, in any administration, because they want to be there and will do anything to get there.

    The creationist argument is I think based on the assumption that people are such perfect beings that only an omniscient god could have created them–no way such a perfect being could have evolved by random actions. Well, take a good look at us. There are many ways we could be improved, physically and mentally, and I for one would take no pride at all in creating a Trump, and I’m not even omniscient.

  17. Miquel Ramirez Says:

    Steve E totally gets it. I would suggest though that rather than introducing just one doofus, you go for a 1970s catastrophe movie cast of characters, where the thrill of the movie comes from finding out who is a doofus that gets in the way and is “punished” with a terrible death and who is not and survives.

  18. gentzen Says:

    If you want to write a novel, why not try to aim high? Other scientist did the same, for example Contact by Carl Sagan, or the famous computer scientist, who wrote

    A family saga: Christos P, failed mathematician and backgammon wiz, traces the teenage years of his mother Eleni during the dark days of the dictatorship in Greece, and tries to come to grips with Bithro, the Gypsy father that he never knew. His sister, the historian Clio — spirit of humanity’s thirst to understand the past — harks further back, she tells the story of the beautiful Khryssa and her father Sarantos during the turmoil of the Greek war of independence against the Turks. The narrative moves from the magical bay of Pylos in the Peloponnese to the academic halls of Princeton, from the bazaars of the Middle East to Stasi’s East Berlin, from the besieged Tripolitza of 1821 to the dungeons of the dictatorship, weaving a storied contemplation on chance, Greece, and revolution — three intertwined subjects that are as essential (you can hardly understand the world without them) as they are intractable.

    On the other hand, I am not sure that a novel is really the most suitable genre for your style. What Heisenberg does in Physics and Beyond might work better for your style and the sort of feelings and experiences you might care about.

    With respect to a pandemic, the familly of a production manager at the Behringwerke in Marburg comes to my mind. The Behringwerke belonged to Hoechst, which both no longer exist, in a certain sense. This may or may not be related to contaminated haemophilia blood products (they were convicted to indemnity in multiple cases where HIV and hepatitis C came together), but my story itself is definitely related to it:

    1978 entwickelte Behring ein aufwändiges Verfahren zur Hitzeinaktivierung von Viren, das 1981 vom Bundesgesundheitsamt zugelassen wurde. Bereits im Mai 1983 wurde berichtet, dass Erhitzen auch das HI-Virus inaktiviert. Dennoch wurden weiterhin Blutprodukte verwendet, in denen Viren nicht inaktiviert worden waren.

    In 1978 Behring developed an elaborate process for heat inactivation of viruses that was approved by the Federal Health Office in 1981. Already in May 1983 it was reported that heating also inactivates the HI virus. However, blood products in which viruses had not been inactivated were still used.

    So you might assume that the Behringwerke could have avoided contaminated products, but that is not true. The process was too expensive as long as the competition was allowed to sell contaminated products without risk of indemnity. For whatever reason, part of the job of that product manager was to “influence the politics” into suitable directions, among others into the direction that selling HIV contaminated products was no longer OK. This took many years. But watching his familly was a strange experience with lasting impact on me. He had three sons. The youngest was two years older than me, and sort of friend of my brother at that time. But it was the middle brother who impacted me the most: He tried to disprove the second law of thermodynamics. He read many articles and made many experiments, and at one point got a special price at the “Jugend forscht” competition. But I had the impression that the “academics” around him (there were many in Marburg) had trouble what to do with him, and somehow failed to connect. He later studied physics, but I guessed he would not finish it. Years later I asked his mother, and she confirmed that my expectation had turned out to be correct. But there would be so many other thread I might want to tell (or probably rather not tell). … Too often I only know the events from hearsay, and see causality connections which were not even part of the hearsay itself. There was the Marburg virus in 1967, which is probably the reason why that story came to my mind in the context of pandemic. There were only seven death (1 in 4 died), and people were certainly thankful for whoever took responsibility to prevent worse. But they could also convincingly explain why they basically knew where the virus came from, and it was not from Uganda. The explanation was that African green monkeys from the same charge in Uganda were sent to different laboratories, taking different routes. But only those monkeys which took a certain route had the virus.

    What has this to do with your planned novel? Well, I guess it shows that the typical case for an author (independent of whether it is a novel or a scientific article) is that he has rather too much to tell, and the challenge is to condense down the material and embed it into a compelling story.

  19. Anonymous Ocelot Says:

    I agree with “add a bad billionaire” suggestion (based on some real life bad billionaire or company) and also “change protagonist’s gender” suggestion.

  20. Oleg S. Says:

    Make his wife a main character

  21. anon Says:

    I think the problem is far deeper than just Trump. Look at Europe. Look at Israel. Yes, maybe Trump is kind of messing it up in the US, but honestly the U.S is so big it’s impossible to contain this thing once it goes around the world. Too many fronts.

    Nobody was really prepared.

    In hindsight, the best action would have been world wide China travel bans.

    But China managed to lie about their situation long enough, and without any interference from outside observers (like WHO whose whole damn point was to find it out), that by the time countries realized China was full of it, too many cases already came through.

    This is maybe 10% Trump but 40% China and 40% WHO.

  22. Gil Kalai Says:

    “[…] almost singlehandedly rescued by one man … a man who reigned for decades as the world’s prototypical ruthless and arrogant tech billionaire, but who was then transformed by the love of his wife.”

    Sounds nice. A few questions:

    Why man? Don’t we have enough men heroes that save the world?

    Why Billionaire? It doesn’t seem that being a billionaire would help you save the world. Rather, she can be a medical doctor or a scientist.

    Why “ruthless and arrogant”? OK I admit that ruthlessness and arrogance may help one to get a message across. (Alas, usually, a bad message.) But, in a novel, maybe you can make the virtue of your hero the decade-long ability to learn and listen to others?

    Why “singlehandedly”? Although we are used to TV series where the hero saved the world singlehandedly (and usually at the last minute) in each and every chapter, maybe, for a novel, this overused idea could be replace by a novel one.

  23. embraceambiguity Says:

    It’s not a bad idea but it’s very American, which is again maybe okay.
    Just a thought: I’d suggest watching SHIN GODZILLA first to see how powerful and moving a story can be when it’s about a collective (a nation or a very large city) getting its shit together and then solving a problem in a way that no one person can claim to be the linchpin.
    If you’re looking to make a point that’s helpful, something like that could be more galvanizing but you do you.

  24. Scott Says:

    Gil #22: Yes, you’re right, all those changes would make for a richer story, and would help teach my readers about how real life is complicated and basically never conforms to cartoon stereotypes and fantasies. Indeed, I don’t know how the cartoon version even got into my head in the first place, but it probably says something sad and disturbing about my psychology, and how misaligned it is from the real world—a world where there are never any clear heroes or villains, just faceless masses and shades of gray. I apologize; I’ll be sure not to repeat the mistake!

  25. Shmi Says:

    Why recoil from the Atlas Shrugged vibe? For all its faults, Ayn Rand did identify quite a few failings of the government that we see now unfolding. If anything, recognizing and embracing the good points from your outgroup seems like more in your (and the other Scott A’s) spirit of fearless self-improvement.

  26. Gil Kalai Says:

    Scott, Let me push my luck then:

    Why “make it past government regulators as evil as they are stupid”?

    Without effective government regulators we will see a lot of irresponsible proposals, bogus science, and all sort of “solutions” that could be really destructive. I suggest that your heroes will work along government regulators and not past them. (In fact, some government regulators may be among the heroes.)

  27. Patrick Says:

    I think some of the commenters here missed the joke. Or maybe they are also joking and I missed it.

  28. Scott Says:

    Gil #26: Yes! If any government regulators want to enter history’s pantheon of heroes, then let them do so today, by approving imported masks and DIY ventilators and experimental drugs and vaccines and all the rest. (When in doubt, check the Twitter pages of Balaji Srinivasan and Scott Gottlieb; if they approve of something then so should you.) Let the regulators approve these things even at risk of losing their jobs; let them bend or set aside their rules as Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler did in the last civilizational crisis. And I don’t care if that sounds silly or overdramatic to anyone: I made that mistake the last time; now I’m done making it.

  29. Justin Says:

    Perhaps you could cut to a scene of a sleepy Welsh town where the residents are having a break from quarantine by dancing outside for fifteen minutes whilst the local nerd looks out his window in horror because his superpower is the ability to see the virus silently floating down the breeze like pollen.

    He wonders how long before the laughter turns into tears?

  30. John Figueroa Says:

    I’m actually kind of amazed at the number of people in this comment section who think Scott is being completely serious here.

    I guess not-enough-subtlety isn’t your issue 😉

  31. Pete Says:

    So, you’re basically planning a biography of Bill Gates? 30 years ago, I hated his software (because I had unix/linux on my expensive workstation – paid for by others) but he looks a lot better to me now. Imagine if he’d been in charge of pandemic preparation in the last six years.

  32. Shmi Says:

    I’m really not a W Bush fan, but that piece linked by Robin Hanson raised my opinion of him:

    https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/george-bush-2005-wait-pandemic-late-prepare/story?id=69979013

  33. superdense_coder Says:

    Sometimes, missing information can be very telling, like the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

    Maybe the surface of the virus that causes the pandemic can be covered in some form of evil looking spikes that everyone is talking about, but nobody has the faintest idea about or shows any interest whatsoever in how many such spikes it has.

    If that is too subtle, make sure that every time the virus is illustrated, it is shown with anything between ten and hundreds of spikes seemingly randomly but nobody bats an eye.

  34. Pantelis Says:

    The idea for your novel follows the patterns of Hollywood movies, which is not a bad idea but it is unrealistic. In real life big disasters and worldwide devastations are not resolved by a single person as in the movies, it requires a group of people or a collision of nations. Like in world war II, facism was not defeated by a single leader or by a central character or a superhero like superman or batman. I think your hero should be on the context of some global effort against the pademic and against the stupidity of leaders with the brain of a 5-year old. A love story in the novel or a wife character will make the story more interesting to the public but it might make them loose the point.

  35. Anonymous Ocelot Says:

    Haha 😛 I blame my not keeping up with latest events!

  36. anon Says:

    Seeing as you already realized once that the “crazy” people were right, I’m going to leave some links, and leave it up to your judgement.

    http://www.whiov.ac.cn/

    (use google translate, explore a bit and look into their research agenda)

    Look up Shi Zhengli, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shi_Zhengli, from Wuhan Virology Institute.

    It’s not even a secret they were one of the only places in China, and in the world, researching bat corona-viruses. What exactly happened is a speculation. But it’s naive to think it’s a coincidence.

  37. Scott Says:

    anon #36: The characteristics of this virus (e.g., inability to target it, disproportionate effects on the elderly and sick…) seem hard to square with a biological weapon. Having said that, I’m entirely open to the possibility that it could have originated in an accidental release from the Wuhan virology institute, with the seafood market being merely the site of the first big cluster that was noticed. (Especially as the first confirmed case, in November, seems to have had no connection to the seafood market.) The fact that the seafood market—which apparently did traffic in pangolins and many other plausible hosts—was a mere 300 meters (!!) from one of the world’s premier labs for researching bat coronaviruses, and that the latter was somehow only a BSL-2—this has to be one of the greatest cosmic coincidences or divine practical jokes of all time. As far as I’m concerned, while we can rule out an intentional release with high confidence, beyond that we simply don’t yet know the origin of this thing (if we ever will).

  38. anon Says:

    Scott #37: Indeed, it doesn’t look like intentional release. But accidental release seems the most plausible scenario. I would even say that the seafood market (which the very first patients didn’t have a clear connection to) is probably a scapegoat. And when Wuhan’s Virology lab is already known for researching and dealing with bats infected by coronavirus, when they have dealt with hundreds of bats infected with these viruses, and when you even have pictures of them dealing with bats without protective equipment, doesn’t take a lot of imagination to draw the missing line.

    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-chinas-bat-woman-hunted-down-viruses-from-sars-to-the-new-coronavirus1/

    It was just a matter of time. 16 years of these researchers in Wuhan dealing with bat infected by corona-viruses every day. Look how unprotected she is in the picture. She knows these bats have SARS-like corona-viruses, and she has no face mask, no gloves, and that’s 2004. 16 years of these things happening daily. The only thing missing is the smoking gun of the first infected person, and there are rumors going around about a specific person missing from Wuhan’s virology lab.

  39. Rainer Says:

    What about writing a second edition of “Quantum Computing since Democritus” instead?
    I will surely buy it.

  40. Drew Says:

    Scott #36: If Google maps are to be believed, the distance between the market and the lab – assuming it is colocated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology – is closer to 10km than 300m.

  41. Gil Kalai Says:

    Regarding regulations (#22), especially regarding experimental drugs and vaccines, it may be true that some less strict policies could be welcome (and this is probably done), and mistakes are probably made also by health regulators and policy makers as others who are in the front-lines of this struggle. However, we have to remember that this is an area (and times) where there are large incentives to make premature and bogus claims that are more damaging than helping. In any case, health regulators who do their job are crucial element in this struggle and certainly not some sort of an enemy but rather they are among the few heroes we depend on.

    A quick word about the new motto of the blog.

    The single most important piece of information these days is, in my opinion,  that the pandemic should be suppressed.

    In contrast to policies (proposed also by some scientists and nerds) that are based achieving herd immunity when a large percent of the populations is infected, it is important (IMHO) to  suppress the disease well before it reaches a substantial portion of the population as was achieved in South Korea and China. This can be achieved by severe form of social distancing, testing, tracing, and wearing masks.

    It is a bit unfortunate that early on the emphasis (and pictures) on “flattening the curve” gave the misguided impression of “flatten the curve while keeping its integral.” Of course all the ingredients needed for suppression the disease are easier and more effective at earlier stages but they could be useful and important also at later stages.   

    Of course, building ventilators is very important as well. There are few things to remember about ventilators. They save the lives 50 percent (or a bit less) of patients who need them; to be effective they require skilled staff to operate (and skill staff for the rehabilitation), and to be effective they need to be very reliable and rather sophisticated.

  42. Scott Says:

    Rainer #39:

      What about writing a second edition of “Quantum Computing since Democritus” instead?
      I will surely buy it.

    Would you buy a graphic novel by me and Zach Weinersmith of SMBC Comics, based on my experience of teaching math, CS, and physics to my 7-year-old daughter while under lockdown?

  43. Scott Says:

    Drew #40: This point caused enormous confusion, apparently there are two different virology institutes: a BSL-4 one that’s like 10km away, and a BSL-2 one that’s only like 300 meters. The latter is the one where they researched bat coronaviruses.

  44. Rainer Says:

    Scott#42:

    No, sorry.

  45. Nick Says:

    Scott #37: You once wrote

    > The shooting of Oswald by Jack Ruby created the perfect conditions for conspiracy theorizing to fester. Conditioned on that happening, it would be astonishing if a conspiracy industry hadn’t arisen, with its hundreds of books and labyrinthine arguments, even under the assumption that Oswald and Ruby both really acted alone.

    Does that line of thinking apply to this case?

  46. Scott Says:

    Nick #45: Yes, it absolutely applies. I haven’t posited any conspiracy theories whatsoever regarding covid. I’ve merely posited governments and organizations—most conspicuously, the US federal government—that have openly, brazenly demonstrated criminal negligence and incompetence, effectively leaving their populations to fend for themselves or die, and that therefore no longer command any thinking person’s allegiance or respect.

  47. Scott Says:

    Rainer #44: Well that’s a damn shame, because I’m too bored to do a second edition of a book I’ve already written—I can only do something totally new and different.

  48. Exonerated Pangolin Says:

    The BSL-2 virology institute 300 meters away from the Wuhan wet market is pretty big and update-worthy news to me, what’s the best source for this ?

  49. Anonymous Says:

    My first suggestion would be to read Unsong, by that other Scott with a blog. It isn’t a 1-1 mapping, but the character of the Comet King, among others, embodies some of what I think you’re trying to convey. Unfortunately I can’t say more without huge spoilers.

  50. Scott Says:

    Anonymous #49: Of course I know Unsong! I even blogged about it.

    Yes, if I were actually serious about writing this novel, rather than just commenting on the spectacular novel-worthiness of reality, Unsong and Atlas Shrugged would be two possible points of comparison—but really, so would any other work (including comic books) with a hero who schemes to save the world.

  51. Scott Says:

    Exonerated Pangolin (not yet btw 🙂 ) #48: See here for example.

  52. Exonerated Pangolin Says:

    Scott 51, Interesting thanks.
    The WaPo article seems to rely on this dailymail piece:

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8009669/Did-coronavirus-originate-Chinese-government-laboratory.html

    Which in turn reports on this (now removed) researchgate paper

    https://web.archive.org/web/20200214144447/https:/www.researchgate.net/publication/339070128_The_possible_origins_of_2019-nCoV_coronavirus

    And if we live in times when the dailymail is a source of useful information might as well link the NR with more details about the supposed patient zero.

    https://www.nationalreview.com/2020/04/coronavirus-china-trail-leading-back-to-wuhan-labs/

  53. Deepa Says:

    Regarding the use of experimental treatments, I wouldn’t want the govt to stand between patient and doctor, specially when no other treatments are available and the threat to life is serious. The Matthew McConaughey movie “Dallas buyers club” is about this (in the context of terminally ill AIDS patients).

  54. Scott Says:

    To anyone who complained about the blog’s new header (“BUILD MORE VENTILATORS”): yes, on reflection, I think that vaccines are an even higher priority right now, as is safely holding an election in November. I’ve updated the header to reflect that. Thanks!

  55. Michael Weissman Says:

    Scott- This is more a response to your previous post. Reading my first Covid action (a letter to local doctors from March 2) sounds like a parody of an insipid weak character:

    “I know this is a little out-of-my-lane, not to mention off-the wall, but I was wondering if perhaps it would make sense to have the next meeting focussed on COVID-19. My epidemiologist friend, who usually joins me in making sarcastic remarks about people who panic about Ebola etc in developed countries, is talking about moving to a remote cabin for the duration. I don’t know who the local experts are, but it does seem likely to become a very big deal soon.”

    And yet at the time that was above-average.

  56. Jair Says:

    Scott #42, I would buy that graphic novel. I’m someone who found math very tedious at that age, as it mostly consisted of rote work like long multiplication, etc., which I was poor at, and only became very interested in it when it became more abstract and conceptual (algebra, calculus.) So I’m curious how you would make an early math education more interesting.

  57. Jr Says:

    Daniel Seita #3 “What about if the billionaire is female, and is transformed by the love of her husband? It’s sometimes tiring to see the same gender stereotypes played out in novels and stories.”

    I think like other tropes they are not a problem in the hand of a gifted writer, and that when less gifted writers deliberately set out to avoid them it often feels forced.

  58. Jon Tyson Says:

    The actions of your stupid government characters might just look like major plot holes. This idea reminds me of a remark that George RR Martin made (although I can’t find it now) that the SS wouldn’t have made believable fiction, because they wear black and have skull emblems on their hats. Nobody does that, well, except that they did.

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