Under the pen name Mira Grant, Seanan McGuire has honed her skills as a writer of science fiction horror novels. They would be frightening enough if they were simply rooted in bacteriological fact, but their incisive critique of today’s media saturated society takes them to a whole new level of terror.
Grant’s Newsflesh series charts the rise of two genetically engineered viruses (designed as treatments for unrelated ailments) that combine into an airborne pathogen—one that has the nasty side effect of raising the dead. But more than a simple zombie tale, the Newsflesh novels dig into the politics of a post-outbreak world as a team of bloggers covers a Presidential campaign.
Grant doubles down on the body horror in Parasite, the first book in the Parasitology series, as she takes us to a near future where tapeworm implants keep us healthy. Which is great, but what happens when the parasites decide they want lives of their own? To celebrate the release of its sequel, Symbiont, Mira Grant took to reddit to hold a lively AMA!
The All-Important Scotch Question, With a Side of News:
Redditor Driftpeasant tried to secure a cameo in an upcoming novel by bribing Mira with fine single malt scotch. It turns out she’s not much of a scotch drinker, but her girlfriend Amy is.
So yeah, if you feel like sending me Scotch for Amy in order to get brutally murdered, we can work something out. Drop me a line through my website. (I currently have the fourth Newsflesh book in progress, so you, too, could be a dead Irwin with very little trouble.) rest of her response caused in dropped the news that she’s working on a fourth Newsflesh book!
When pressed for more details, she explained:
It is NOT a part of the trilogy. It’s a book, in the same world, but is not about the characters from the trilogy. […] It’s about the Democratic campaign for the Presidency.
On Biological Weaponry and Scientific Discovery:
ScrdMnkyDst: After parasitism and virology, what area of medical science fiction are you leaning towards next?
MG: I’m looking at a whole bunch of different areas, in part because my agent and editor have to approve of whatever I write (I’m under contract), so I don’t want to fall too in love with something I won’t get to do. (I’ve also been “scooped” a few times—the danger of playing with fringe and near-future science is that other people can have very similar ideas!) So I’m looking at some stuff with biological weapons testing, and with colony collapse disorder, and with the square/cube law. You know. The usual.
Trebly: What recent scientific discovery or advancement do you think is most likely to have catastrophic ramifications for our world?
MG: Honestly, I think it’s less science that’s going to destroy the world, and more the constant insistence that profit should be a major part of science. Let’s look at the whole concept behind a public health care net. If I give you access to cheap or free medical care, you will remain in better condition, and better able to work. Better yet, you will not become a fun breeding ground for new strains of bacteria and fungus. So you won’t infect everybody around you. Yet we keep saying “no no my taxes are better spent paying for a war than they are on giving health care to the poor,” so we allow thousands to die when they could have lived, and allow novel strains of all kinds of things to be nurtured in the perfect environment.
It’s not just silly and selfish, it’s short-sighted. We could end the world simply by refusing to acknowledge that a bottom line ten years in the future matters more than a profit statement today.
Awken: Ok, this is a super weird question but it’s one that’s been bugging me for a while. You mention time and again in the Newsflesh trilogy and the short stories that accompany it (especially in “The Day the Dead Came to Show and Tell”) that once blood leaves the human body the Kellis Amberlee virus becomes “active” and the blood is immediately biohazardous. Your characters go to great lengths to avoid even the most microscopic amounts of spilled blood. So I’ve been wondering for a while how women in the Newsflesh universe deal with menstruation. Are they just walking biohazards for several days of every month? Or does the virus not pass into menstrual blood for some reason?
MG: [B]asically, it is SUPER HARD to infect yourself, which is why we don’t have parents yanking all the teeth out of their 36 lb. children to avoid amplification over adult teeth. Bleeding on your own vag isn’t going to cause amplification. Bleeding on your partner might. Most people with menstrual cycles have gotten birth control implants that prevent all but a handful of periods during the year, and are INCREDIBLY CAREFUL when bleeding time arrives.
On the Consequences of Tapeworms:
ToriWritesWords: I know you said you got a tapeworm once for research purposes. What did you learn from it? Was anything about it totally unexpected?
MG: Mostly I learned that people are really, really grossed out when you proudly announce that you have a tapeworm, and they will tell you to wash your hands a LOT.
coney_island_burial: Who was your favorite Newsflesh character to write, and why was it Shaun? What’s your favorite thing (spoilers?) that you can tell us about Symbiont?
MG: My favorite Newsflesh character was actually Dr. Abbey. She is just 1000% done with all this bullshit, and it’s delightful. My favorite thing about Symbiont is spending more time with Sal, and letting her grow toward the woman she’s going to be, instead of the child she’s been for so long.
bookish-malarkey: What are some of your favorite science fiction and/or horror movies?
MG: My favorite horror movies are Slither, Night of the Comet, and Nightbreed. My favorite science fiction movies are probably Lock Out and Jason X (IT COUNTS IT COUNTS). Also I am ridiculously enamored of the Resident Evil movies.
lluad: What’s your favorite bacterium?
MG: I am a big fan of y. pestis. I don’t think it caused the Black Death, but it’s just so tenacious, what’s not to love?
A Disgusting But Important Bit of Worlbuilding:
Nefarious_Vix: Zombie digestive systems? If they eat…
MG: Yes, they shit. Constantly. Many have secondary infections leading to diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues. And they don’t wipe themselves.
An Important Question:
zthahn: What are your cats’ names and do you have pictures?
MG: My cats are Alice and Thomas, both blue classic tabby and white Maine Coons; my Twitter feed is a nightmare wasteland of pictures of the two of them, or there are some shots on my website. There are also pictures of Lilly, my Siamese who passed away in July. I haven’t had the heart to take them down yet. Thanks for asking!
On Post-Outbreak Living:
poop_slinger: My question is for the Newsflesh world. Does Tim Horton’s survive the rising in Canada? I have this mental image of heavily fortified Tim’s & gas truck stops littered across the Country.
MG: Quite a few Timmy’s have survived, and even the ones that are technically no longer considered franchise locations, due to being in hazard zones where the zombie moose roam free, will still serve you hot coffee and glazed donuts if you need them.
On the Stuff that’s Really Important:
ReginaPhilangee: I’m probably late to the party but I really wanted to tell you this. The way you treat the subject of homo- and bi-sexuality gives me hope for a world where I can mention my two moms and the conversation will continue. In your world, there are no labels or shock surrounding sexuality; sometimes people like men and sometimes they like women and sometimes they like both. Thank you.
MG: You are so welcome, and this comment is a large part of the reason why I do things the way that I do.