Interview: Andy Stewart on “Typhoid Jack”
– Tell us a bit about “Typhoid Jack.”
In a future where society has relinquished most control to cybernetic custodians known as “Farmers,” Jack Lowe, former Chief of Peace, pursues the not-quite-legal profession of a germ peddler. In this future, almost all sicknesses have been eradicated (except for the common cold, of course). But when Bernadette Maude, CEO of a major corporation under house arrest for mysterious reasons, employs Jack for the challenging task of infecting her, he must make further compromises to get the job done. Along with the technical difficulties required of this job, Jack must overcome a more personal obstacle: Seventeen, a Farmer with whom he has a tricky past.
– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?
I had a bad cold. I looked in the mirror and asked myself, “Who in the hell would want this?” And bingo, there you have it. A world where germs are a commodity, where people need to be sick sometimes in order to slow down. I was reading a good bit of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett at the time for another noir project, and everything sort of came together.
– What kind of research, if any, did you do for this story?
I didn’t do as much research on this story as I usually do because I was less interested in the science and more interested in the character development and situation. That being said, I brushed up a bit on virulent disease and bacteria, especially regarding the speed in which germs replicate in the human body.
– This sci-fi story is your first sale to F&SF. What have you written in the past, and what draws you to the science fiction genre?
I’ve always loved science fiction. I remember reading F&SF and Asimov’s as a young teen. I especially loved Bradbury (R.I.P., good sir), and later Le Guin and Delaney. Even in my undergraduate and graduate experiences, I gravitated toward sci-fi, surreal, and slipstream. My first publications, which appear in Big Bridge (an online literary journal), are in these styles.
“Typhoid Jack” is my first short story in print, and is obviously very sci-fi. I also have a slipsteam short story, “Synesthesia,” forthcoming in the west coast literary journal ZYZZYVA. I wrote “Synesthesia” in my last week at Clarion 2011, which was a key experience for my writing. I wrote “Typhoid Jack” before Clarion, but polished it up after.
– What might you want someone reading “Typhoid Jack” to take away from the story?
It’s tough to look objectively at my work in this way, but I do know that “Typhoid Jack” deals primarily with the balance between self-interest and the good of the community. It’s a complex equilibrium, and pervasive in our own society. I mean, look at the dichotomy between Democratic and Republican ideals (or, how they are perceived by the talking heads on the 24 hour news networks). Self-preservation may be our strongest drive, but what about our fellow man? It’s all very tricky. But I like to write about tricky things, and sci-fi is a great genre for exploring them.
– What are you working on now?
Currently, I’m polishing up an alternative history sci-fi novella that focuses on events in and around Chernobyl in the early 90s. I’ve recently finished a speculative fiction novel tentatively titled All the Night a Song, represented by Jason Yarn with the Paradigm Agency. It’s getting shopped later in July, so wish me luck!
“Typhoid Jack” appears in the May/June 2012 issue.
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