Tag Archives: plague

The Idea Mill #31

It’s been a long time since we visited the Idea Mill, here on Entertaining Stories. I’ve kept my eyes open for articles, and they haven’t been all that good lately. In typical fashion, I  always wait until I  have three – but two good ones show up at the same time, leaving me with four.

If this is your first visit to the Idea Mill, I  have a category in the sidebar where you can check out the previous posts. I  use push feeds to send me news about things that might help my fiction. Think of them like Muse food. I  can’t possibly use them all, and maybe something will bring your own Muse to the table.

Our first article involves humans returning to the moon one day. Scientists have long speculated there might be underground lava tubes on the moon that would make a great location for a human colony. A team of Japanese and American scientists proved the theory, and they even identified a suitable location.

In speculative fiction, you can always change things up to suit yourself. Maybe you want Mars instead; shouldn’t be a huge leap of faith. Maybe you want some basis for a fantasy where one of your races lives in underground colonies. This could be a starting point for your research.

I really like the image in the article that shows a huge underground cell holding a city the size of Philadelphia with plenty of room to spare. If you think of Earth’s atmosphere as being similar to an ocean, then why couldn’t you fill the entire cell with oxygen and allow the inhabitants to moon-hop without space suits? I think I could sell that in a story. If you get plants to grow, they might even help with the oxygen. You can read the article here.

That giant cell where the people must live is also a perfect setting for horror of some kind. Help is a long way off, and you can’t just run away.

Our next one involves a new finding that the squirrel fur trade may have helped spread leprosy in medieval England. I think what amazes me the most is the idea there even was a squirrel fur trade. I mean squirrels never seemed to make much of an impact on the red carpet decades ago when fur was in fashion. Marilyn Monroe never posed snuggled inside a squirrel fur stole and nothing else. I can see trade like this spreading diseases way back then. They didn’t have some of the regulations, FDA, and other folks watching over them.

Need a fantasy character who hasn’t been done to death? Tired of burley woodsmen and handsome princes? How about a squirrel fur trader? How about a bunch of orphans who catch squirrels to survive? Could there be a fur trader’s guild in your fantasy city? Maybe even a guild war when opossum fur starts becoming more economical?

Learn about the spread of disease by squirrel fur trading at this site.

Our next article involves an idea that’s been floating around for a long time. Mosquitos carry a lot of diseases that are harmful to humans. They are also hard to control using current methods, because the old methods were so devastating to the environment. When I first read about this, the idea was to introduce a deadly mosquito venereal disease into the larger population in hopes that it would kill them all off. That idea never went away, it seems. Today it’s back with a new hair-brained basis. The FDA has approved a method of using sterile male mosquitos to introduce into the wild. In theory these would mate with the bad mosquitos (apparently the bad ones are always females) leaving all the eggs as duds.

Now, if this could actually happen, repeated treatments could lead to an extinction of the bad mosquitos. Their method cracks me up, though. They will produce these mosquitos in a lab, then hand separate the males from the females, before boxing them up to ship to areas where Zika and yellow fever are prominent.

If they’re going to use labor to hand separate the mosquitos, I almost think they’d be better off to send that same labor into the swamps with fly-swatters. Anyway, you can read the article here, then we’ll speculate about it.

Maybe you caught on to the term in the article about weaponized mosquitos. If they can manipulate the little buggers to this extent, it isn’t much of a leap to turn them into biological weapons to use against humans. Some of this might even play into my next novel that I’m going to call Grinders. (I need to give it some thought.) Maybe you write thrillers, and can pit the CDC against a terrorist cell utilizing weaponized mosquitos to carry out its evil plans. Maybe you want to project this out a few years and have the Endangered Species Act trying to protect the now-endangered bad mosquitos. It could be CDC vs the Endangered Species Act, while the terrorists are getting away.

Like I said, I hold some of these articles for months, then always seem to get two at the last moment. This time is no exception, so we have one more. Where the mosquito article bordered on mad science, this one moves right in and sets up shop. Scientists have been merging human and rat brains in a laboratory. They even have a cute name for the human parts called organoids.

This one plays right into my Grinders novel, and I already have rats involved. The article explores the idea of ethics and rights if the animals are part human, and questions what kind of consciousness they might have. I’ve got news for them, all animals are conscious to a degree. They all protect their babies, understand the need for food and water, and many are much more incredible.

Writing a courtroom type story that’s reflective of the Scopes Monkey Trials, one where eventually a rat testifies, seems like low hanging fruit to me. It could be good, but it’s just not what I write. I can see a plague of intelligent rats causing all kinds of problems. Maybe they set up street gangs and start taking lunches from school children. They form organized raids on restaurants and bakeries. Maybe they even fight back by using swarms of biting rats to kill those who oppose them.

It wouldn’t take much of a stretch to use other species if you have the science behind this project. You could go all Michael Chichton on the story. Read the article right here.

One of the fun parts, and it gets harder with four articles, is to rough out a story using all the articles. I have space, a medieval fur trade, and two modified animals to deal with…

A colony of humans is living on the moon in a fully functional underground city. They are dependent upon Earth for many of the things they need for survival. These people are dependent upon a line of super intelligent rats to help them delve deeper into the lava tubes. The rats can explore places we cannot go, and assess whether it’s worth digging through to the next area.

It’s cold on the moon, and the rats want something warmer than their natural fur. A shipment of squirrel fur arrives from Earth, and a cottage industry is born – making fur coats for rats. The fur is infected with a virus that is deadly to humans. The best hope is in the form of modified mosquitos that will transmit a cure for the disease. However, the cure is deadly for the rats.

While the ship carrying the cure is on its way, the rats rise up to destroy the humans before they can destroy the rats.

That’s it, some ideas to kick your Muse in the pants; check. A corny outline to have some fun with; check.

I’ve got to say the last two have me thinking, and I think the Research Sirens are on their way to the writing cabin.

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God spare me from propaganda, or not…

This is a tough post to write, because I don't want to link to the article that touched me off. It's one thing to be interested and respectful, but another to bitch and moan.

I'll just say that I found this article in the I Fucking Love Science vault today. I thought it might be a cool one to save for the Idea Mill series that I sporadically post.

It involves a massive death of the saiga antelope population of Kazakstan. It's a fascinating natural occurrence involving a respiratory disease. It seems they've always carried this bacteria, but the bacteria suddenly turned deadly.

North American wild sheep get respiratory problems, so I was curious enough to click on the article.

The Saiga is an ugly bugger, but I've known that for a long time. He looks a little bit like a character from the cantina scene in the original Star Wars.

My problem with the article involves the agenda behind the reporting. It's written to cause fear and some other reactions.

It starts off by mentioning the saiga is endangered to begin with. Then it mentions the population of 300,000 animals before the disease. I'm sorry, but how are 300,000 of anything considered endangered? Let's talk black footed ferret numbers and California condor numbers.

It seems that 200,000 of the saiga fell to this disease. Why then am I reading about near 100% die off? My math says 66% die off and that isn't near 100%.

They did it by cusping the number. They said near 100% die off in some herds. What qualifies as a herd? Two animals?

They also mention the decimation of the saiga because he was hunted as a replacement for rhino horn. When I looked at the pictures (he really is an ugly bugger) only the bucks have horns. Growing up in ranch country, I know that among herd animals only one male is needed per hundred females. The males can suffer a huge reduction in population, but all the females will bear young the following Spring.

Since there is no financial reason to shoot the females and young, horn hunting can't be the reason for the population decline. Poachers are not about to waste precious ammo to shoot animals that don't bring a profit. They just aren't. The bucks are edible too, so there would be plenty of camp meat.

The line about the horn hunting doesn't have anything to do with the bacterial infection. Why did they include it? Sensationalism? They didn't even ask me to donate to anything.

The story is interesting. I want to know more, and it might lead to some great fiction too. My problem is by shredding their credibility, I can't trust anything they wrote at all.

I'm not saving this for the Idea Mill.

On the other hand, I do have an outline from last summer about a guy who starts wars for profit. It's set in a fantasy environment, and has some merit to being a future novel. Lies, deceit, and propaganda would be his stock in trade.

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The Idea Mill #21

It's about time for a trip to the old Idea Mill. This is a regular feature of my blog where I discuss ideas that come to me in the news.

I set up a bunch of push feeds and get news I might be interested in pushed my direction. When something clicks with me, I save the link until I have enough to make one of these posts.

The idea is that maybe it will pique your imagination too. Some of these ideas might make a great story element, others might fuel an entire novel.

Let's dive right into our first story.

We start with an outbreak in the American Midwest that's probably over by now. At the time of this article the body count is at eighteen. It involves a rare bacteria called Elizabethkingia.

This is what appeals to me. I really can't let go of a character named Elizabeth Kingia who turns out to be patient zero in a disaster story. She's a modern day Typhoid Mary who spreads a disease everywhere she goes. It wouldn't be hard to turn her into a supernatural character if that was your mindset. Maybe she's the daughter of the horseman, Pestilence.

I just love the name. I'm sorry about the real life situation, but this kind of thing lends a bit of realism to a plague story. This is a real bacteria. It's really called Elizabethkingia. It's really causing problems. You can read the article I saw here.

In this story, a mummified sailor was found floating on his yacht. It is believed he could have been dead for up to seven years. A genuine ghost ship in the modern era. Police say he split from his wife, and believe she died of cancer. He was last documented in 2009.

This kind of story can lend some real authority to any ghost ship story. There are any number of Flying Dutchman type stories, and this story gives them legs.

When I think about this story, the sailor isn't the problem. What killed him is the problem. You could put him on a spaceship, a train, or whatever you want. I see him as the opening scene in the story though. Read the article, with a picture, here.

Finally we have curses. I was first exposed to this in a television show called Rome. Curses were scratched out on sheets of lead. In this case, they had to get to the underworld, and they were placed in someone's grave. I suppose this made whoever's grave it was into some kind of afterlife messenger.

This television show caused me to research until I found the prayer/curse stones I used in Panama. Counterclockwise for a curse, clockwise for a prayer.

The story is that someone didn't like a barkeep and his wife very much. Here is the translation:

“Cast your hate upon Phanagora and Demetrios and their tavern and their property and their possessions. I will bind my enemy Demetrios, and Phanagora, in blood and in ashes, with all the dead…”

“I will bind you in such a bind, Demetrios, as strong as is possible, and I will smite down a kynotos on [your] tongue.”

One of the things that appeals to me from the article is the idea of a professional curse writer. I can imagine that writing wasn't a common skill, and that sheets of lead weren't something easily procured either. This means a professional curse writer could probably charge a steep fee. I want to be a professional curse writer in my next life. Maybe this writing gig could be more profitable then. (Just joking… Not really, I want to be a professional curse writer.)

I can imagine a husband and wife working in a city. He is a professional curse writer, she sells counter curses, like the eye amulets or phallic symbols in previous Idea Mill posts. They might make fun main characters in a con job type story. Read the story yourself here.

These are fun, because there are recent news stories to support them. Part of the Idea Mill is me coming up with a corny story that incorporates all of the ideas. My goal is to spark your imagination.

Let's say Elizabeth Kingia is spreading a disease around … Let's use Southern Europe somewhere. A professional curse writer causes her so much trouble that she flees the country on a chartered boat.

Authorities in a new country find the boat run aground. The only person aboard is the mummified captain. There is no evidence of who his passenger was, or what cargo he was hauling.

Elizabeth Kingia is free to spread the plague to England, America, Australia, wherever you want to send her. You'll have to come up with some kind of hero to chase her down, but this is the root of a story. I would probably make my hero the professional curse writer and bring his wife along for color and backup.

 

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The Idea Mill # 5

For newer readers, I save articles I find in a folder. These are articles that make me scratch my head and think about the fiction I write. When I have enough, I post another idea mill article. Let’s all speculate, shall we.

The first one is based on the eyesight of the mantis shrimp. This is a beautiful, but strange ocean creature with no real value to humans, beyond the esthetic. This story shows why the world’s odd creatures should be protected, and what might be lost when a species goes extinct.

It seems the mantis shrimp sees the world a bit differently than humans. It has to do with the way his eyes interpret polarizing light. Using this special skill, the mantis shrimp is capable of seeing human cancers. Cool, but how useful is that?

Scientists have built a camera that replicates shrimp vision. Rather than create another $10,000 procedure for insurance to pay, they seem to think it can become a smart phone app. This restores my faith in humanity, to a degree. Part of the article said shrimpie sees neurons. Since I’m a speculative fiction writer, this trips my trigger.

What about an app that goes down the police state path. Check someone out with your camera, and know whether they are a child abuser, rapist, or terrorist. Can you imagine picking your girl up for a date, and having to pass muster for her father under these circumstances? What if dating became more like qualifying for a loan. “Sorry bud, you have a predisposition for osteoporosis. I can’t inflict that on my future children.”

Read about the mantis shrimp here.

Our next story is something that could add some spice to a science fiction story. In fact, I may redesign this and include it in my current manuscript. Someone has designed, and built, a tiny camera drone. This one can snap around your wrist, like a bracelet. Read the article here, then we’ll speculate.

The design seems to indicate availability to the general public. What might happen if a pervert gets one of these? What if they start clusters of these on a pattern through our malls, schools, and airports? Maybe your amateur girl detective needs one of these to get herself into trouble. Could these cruise our workplaces and watch over our shoulders at every move we make? Maybe your bad guys want these locked in a safety deposit box, only to deploy after closing time. What would you write about these?

Next, it seems the U.S. Navy has built, and is about to deploy, a rail gun. This gun fires a projectile at seven times the speed of sound using an electro magnetic pulse. It has a considerable range and appears to be capable of pinpoint accuracy. This will allow replacement of million dollar missiles with $25,000 projectiles. Good news or bad news depends upon which end of the gun you happen to be on. Read the article here.

I recall a failed attempt to build a space gun. I may have posted this article in a previous Idea Mill. The U.S. tried for years to build a gun capable of launching items into orbit. The original is scrapped and rusting somewhere. The rail gun might see this become reality. What if we could launch a satellite for $25,000? Even a relatively small business could have a satellite in space. Could this mark the end of the cellular network? Would we all get satellite phones? What would this do to the Internet?

What if organized crime had its own satellite network? Would there be multiple internets forcing us to subscribe to several, like cable TV?

I have one of my Macabre Macaroni stories coming soon that references a space gun, only mine is a mortar.

The last one today is about Ebola. This one includes charts to show just how fast this disease spreads. Read about it here.

Ebola could become the Black Death of our era. Others have written about this, but if you write about a zombie virus or any kind of dystopian settings, you really ought to be watching this unfold. How is the world reacting and responding? Is anyone making money here? Does anyone want it to spread? Are the terrorists watching? Are we watching celebrities as the world crumbles?

PS: I changed my background early. I’m off to Coeur d’Alene for a week, and wanted access to my Mac for this.

Speculate with me people, what would you write?

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