Joshua Alan Parry – VIRUS THIRTEEN – Interview

By on March 26, 2013

Now that the book tournament is racing along on its own like a carriage with unreined horses, I can take a step back toward normal operations and talk about the normal sorts of things with a debut author. You know, zombies, wiping every last human from the planet, the state of our alma mater’s football team….

Please welcome with me Joshua Alan Parry, whose first novel is Virus Thirteen, out this month from Tor:

Scientists James Logan and his wife, Linda, have their dream careers at the world’s leading biotech company, GeneFirm, Inc. But their happiness is interrupted by a devastating bioterrorist attack: a deadly superflu that quickly becomes a global pandemic. Linda’s research team is sent to underground labs to develop a vaccine, but security is soon breached and Linda is in danger. To save her, James must confront a desperate terrorist, armed government agents, and an invisible killer: Virus Thirteen.

Elena Nola: What inspired Virus Thirteen?

Joshua Alan Parry: It was 2007. I had just graduated college and was taking the stereotypical “year off” before heading to medical school. So naturally, the first thing I did was go to Burning Man. After spending a week out in the desert, surrounded by so much creative energy, and there was plenty of it, I started the 30-hour drive home with the goal of creating a unique pandemic thriller. Somewhere around New Mexico, Virus Thirteen was born.

How realistic a scenario were you aiming for with this book? Is it meant to be a true possible outcome or an over-the-top exaggeration?

My goal was to push the science to the very edge of possibility without becoming too outlandish. The genetic engineering of humans, viruses, and animals to the degree seen in this book is theoretically feasible and might not be as far off as we think.

Are you familiar with the game Pandemic/2? If so, what’s your opinion of it as a scientist…and as a player?

I had actually never heard of it. So I looked it up and spent that last hour trying to kill off the planet. Madagascar keeps eluding me. It’s frustrating.

I did enjoy trying to apply infectious disease principles to the game. The key being to strike the right balance with the virulence of the bug, meaning if it is too potent it will kill the host before it can be passed on to the next victim, yet if the virus is too weak it won’t spread as rapidly through the population. So in the face of a real pandemic the human race can rest not-so-assuredly that if a virus is too deadly it will burn itself out. In the end, I think I’ll leave the masterminding of pandemics up to Mother Nature.

Do you think the sort of devastating disease events in humanity’s not-so-distant past and imaginary dystopian futures are really realistic, or do you think even the worst outbreak would be curbed? Any ballpark for what you think the realistic worst-case % of population lost would be?

Dystopian futures are a complete reality, *cough*North Korea*cough*. The minimally-totalitarian, overcrowded, and globally warmed United States we find in this novel is not so hard to imagine.

Regarding pandemics, even if you look at one of the deadliest outbreaks in human history, The Black Death, also cheerily known as the plague, it still only managed to knock out 30-60% of Europe’s population, and this was without modern medicine and its concepts of sterility and isolation. So one would hope a modern day pandemic would be better managed than that. Knock on wood.

Of course, in Virus Thirteen, the bioterrorists have found a clever way around the usual natural biology of pandemics via genetic engineering, creating something infinitely more sinister.

RE the dystopian futures – I worded that question poorly. I was aiming more at things like those that arise because of a zombie apocalypse that wiped out 90% of humanity (I agree completely that dystopias can and do exist).  Fun as that sort of storyline is, do you find much plausibility there?

One of the themes I harp on in the novel is the incredible resilience of man. These killer pandemics may capture our imagination in our art and literature, however, the fact remains we are a stubbornly successful species, and bioterrorists and natural disasters be damned, we are not going anywhere without a fight. So a 90% kill-off scenario is highly unlikely, but then again perhaps a philosophical Velociraptor was once filled with such hubris?

Do you have any favorite disease movies/books/television shows? (Myself, I loved Soderbergh’s Contagion for a serious choice, and Cabin Fever still makes me squirm for a ridiculous fun choice.)

You know, I haven’t seen either of those two. I will have to check them out.

For me, as far as books are concerned, I’m still a fan of Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, nothing like immediate disseminated coagulation to get your pulse racing, no pun intended. Crichton, a Harvard medical school graduate, was able to use his medical background to create stories that were incredibly interesting to read and even more terrifying to ponder.

In cinema, I loved 28 Days Later, which combined a viral outbreak, lightning fast “zombies”, and an intense soundtrack from Godspeed that kept my hands clammy the entire movie.

On a more serious note, do you think research into the genome/possible transmutations of viral/bacterial diseases should be kept classified or shared openly with the scientific community?

That is a tough question. There has definitely been a lot of public debate over this. I would say I’m pro responsible research and the people who can best decide what this does and does not include are the experts in that field of study, i.e., not me, or politicians for that matter. Then we could all sleep comfortably at night, because everyone knows that scientific experts are never wrong…

Any plans for sequels? Or other books in the works?

I just finished the first draft of a psychological horror/thriller that I am excited about. I also have the plot summary done for a follow up to Virus Thirteen. The story is set in the same universe and it explores the repercussions of the events that took place in the first novel.

Okay, one last question, Texas-Ex to Texas-Ex: Your thoughts on how the Longhorns will do next season? 🙂 

I graduated during the heyday of Vince Young. Needless to say we are still awaiting his second coming, but luckily I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan, so I got that going for me—wait, no never mind. Football has been rough for the last few seasons….I will remain eternally hopeful.

I recommend getting a second team – preferably an SEC powerhouse….Thanks so much for taking the time to visit us here!

JOSHUA ALAN PARRY is a medical resident at the Mayo Clinic. He received his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston and holds a B.S. in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was also captain of the ice hockey team. Over the years, he has worked as a guide for at-risk youth in the Utah wilderness, a metal worker in Montreal, a salmon canner in Alaska, and a molecular genetics intern. He was raised in Keller, Texas.

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About Elena Nola

Elena Nola runs things here at BookSpotCentral. She is also the imperial movie critic and the colder half of the Ladies of Ice and Fire. On Twitter @MoffElena