Friday, May 13, 2022

The Post-Antibiotic Era is Here

Guest Post by Chris Holm

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: CHILD ZERO is not a COVID novel. It can’t be, because I’ve been working on it for six years—completing my first draft in January of 2020, when COVID cases still numbered in the hundreds.

And while I’d be delighted to find myself shelved alongside Justin Cronin, Stephen King, and Emily St. John Mandel, the near-future of CHILD ZERO isn’t all that post-apocalyptic, either. Sure, the pillars of society are a little wobbly, but they’ve yet to crumble, and there’s every chance the better angels of humanity may yet prevail.

So what, exactly, is CHILD ZERO? That depends on who you ask.

My publisher, Mulholland Books, describes it as a scientific thriller in the vein of Michael Crichton about our species' next great existential threat—namely, the imminent collapse of the antibiotic era.

Tess Gerritsen, of Rizzoli and Isles fame, called CHILD ZERO “a terrifying look at a world gone mad and the possible plagues to come.”

Chris Holm
Lee Child said it was “really scary” and “highly recommended.”

In their starred review, Publishers Weekly declared it an “alarmingly plausible thriller… fans of Lawrence Wright’s THE END OF OCTOBER won’t want to miss.”

And some other fella from up my way by the name of Stephen King said it’s a thriller that “really thrills” with twists that “go off like a string of firecrackers.” (Say, that’s a snazzy turn of phrase. He might have a future in this business.)

Personally, I like to think of it as a thrilling yarn about a little kid with a big secret that many powerful people would kill to learn—but I won’t deny that I also intended it as a call to action.

See, for years, scientists and medical professionals have been sounding the alarm about the dangers of multidrug-resistant bacteria.

“A post-antibiotic era—in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the twenty-first century,” wrote physician Keiji Fukuda in his foreword to a 2014 World Health Organization report.

“Stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era,” insisted CDC director Robert Redfield in 2019, “it’s already here. You and I are living in a time when some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles and families are being ripped apart by a microscopic enemy.”

“Unless researchers develop new antibiotics and therapeutics,” cautioned professors Jennie H. Kwon and William G. Powderly in a 2021 editorial for the journal Science, “the decimation of modern medicine will soon become a reality.”

Though their admonitions have garnered coverage from such outlets as BBC News, The New York Times, NPR, Vox, The Washington Post, and Wired, the public at large remains unmoved, likely because they fail to comprehend the enormity of the threat.

It’s not their fault. Widespread antibiotic resistance is a thorny concept, the full ramifications of which are tough for laypeople to wrap their heads around. That’s where I come in.

I’ve been fortunate enough to make my living as a writer for several years, but before that, I was a molecular biologist. I began my career at the University of Virginia’s Department of Internal Medicine, where my research helped identify a molecule that regulates a major virulence factor in the pathogen responsible for amoebic dysentery. Later, while working for a marine biotech startup on the coast of Maine, I discovered a gene in spiny lobster that provided the basis for a United States patent. I then spent several years doing research and development for a Maine-based diagnostic company whose tests help keep our furry friends healthy, and ensure the water on the International Space Station is safe to drink.

My background and experience make me uniquely suited to render, in vivid detail, the terrifying reality of a post-antibiotic world—and, by doing so, educate readers about this looming crisis before it’s too late to avert.

That is the essence of CHILD ZERO.

That is why I spent six years working hard to get it right.


Chris Holm is the author of the cross-genre Collector trilogy, which recasts the battle between heaven and hell as old-fashioned crime pulp; the Michael Hendricks thrillers, which feature a hitman who only kills other hitmen; thirty-odd short stories that run the gamut from crime to horror to science fiction; and the scientific thriller CHILD ZERO. He's also a former molecular biologist with a US patent to his name. Chris’ work has been selected for THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES, named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, and won a number of awards, including the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Novel. He lives in Portland, Maine.

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