Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Short SF Review #6: "Bite"

"Bite," by Lawrence A. Perkins
Appeared in Analog Science Fiction / Science Fact, July 1967

A fearless squirrel was no fun. And today one of the nasty little rodents had charged straight toward him, ignored the bait peanut, and bitten him. Bitten Dr. Albert Hoganth, internationally recognized expert on ductless gland function and malfunction!

In these present days of pandemic fears, the control of disease and the quarantine of the infected is of particular concern. Part of the problem is the degree to which carriers of the disease may resist attempts to control its spread, mostly unconsciously. The average person in such a circumstance wouldn't think she or he is spreading a vile sickness, particularly if they don't know they've got it or have convinced themselves it's just a minor case; no, they're just going about their ordinary life, and nothing bad will happen.

When arrogance is added to this equation, when someone sick with a communicable disease actively resists attempts at quarantine, things get a lot more dangerous.

"Bite" - which according to the ISFDB made its singular published appearance in this issue of Analog, headlined by Harry Harrison's "The Man From P.I.G." - follows Drs. Albert Hoganth and Edwin Thurwill, clinicians in a major metropolitan hospital. Hoganth's problem is that he's been bitten by a rabid squirrel, and remains in denial of his symptoms even after Thurwill manages to make him a patient by force. The core of the problem is that, given the lack of any cure for rabies, Hoganth "is doomed to suffer and die of the most horrible disease known to man."

That's Hoganth's problem. Fortunately, as it turns out, there's an experimental cure for rabies. Unfortunately, that creates Thurwill's problem, namely that Hoganth is an asshole. Perkins spared no effort to make the rabid doctor as unlikeable as possible throughout the length of the story. The problem with this is that, as the first human to survive rabies, Hoganth may well become an unaffected carrier - immune to the disease, but capable of infecting anyone he comes into contact with. In the end, Thurwill's decision on how to resolve it is not entirely unexpected, and rather understandable.

Self-interest can only take a person so far. The Neitzscheans founded their society on enlightened self-interest, and all it got them was the Long Night. If extended to its logical conclusion, it's at odds with the idea of a cooperative civilization. Considering the behavior of the alleged AIDS Patient Zero for North America, as well as the actions of the player base during World of Warcraft's "Corrupted Blood" plague-glitch in 2005, there are those out there who will resist and damn the torpedoes.

Self-interest doesn't take into account the tragedy of the commons.


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