Some thoughts on pandemics and their impact on writers

Watching this Covid19 epidemic unfold – as a Science Fiction writer, and someone who therefore deals with imagining TEOWAKI is hard, especially as I have family members I love very much who will, inevitably, be in the front line. Me, I’ve lived life to full and while I’m anything but ready to give up on doing more crazy things, I’ve had a fair go.  I am of course hoping it turns out much better than my best scenarios, a minor blip, and that both effective treatment and a possible vaccine are developed fast and death tolls are as low as possible.

Not thinking about it, ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is rather like not thinking of pink elephants, now that I have said you shouldn’t think of them.

At this stage much of the essential medical data is still not really available to predict anything, let alone panic. . We don’t actually have reliable figures on infection rates, how many people are severely affected, and mortality rates. The little we do know says this is not THE LAST CENTURION. Many people do survive, some barely are aware of being ill. We know (as with flu) that the older you are and more underlying conditions you have the worse one’s chances. People, even with these issues, do survive at least some percentage of the time.  The problem is not the disease as much the acute cases, and the lack of facilities to treat short-term high volumes. We do know in an era of globalization and fast global travel, that the chances are it will spread, and the effects (even if spread is somewhat slowed or contained) will be to all involved in that globalized world.

None-the-less the economic and social effects even of that, are going to be profound. At best, short term, and possibly for generations. Travel, the dreams of tighter and more global integration, of open borders, and the end of the Nation State just got slapped in the face with a hard dose of reality.  Large face-to-face meetings and crowded stores and workplaces will certainly take a temporary if not long term existential change. All those Cons the mean girls of SF and SJW spent so much politicking effort to control… may go on hiatus, if not die. We have some alternatives that humans subjected to the various historical plagues do not. Internet shopping and social media get-together are going to grow.  As with anything, there are winners and losers, and those who are worse affected. Government will of course take a bad situation and somehow make it worse.

We’re likely however to hit a recession, at least short term (I know compared to being dead, not a problem). Some countries will be much worse affected (health and economy) but in a globalized world (remember we were told this both good and inevitable) everyone will be affected – even if there is a cure tomorrow.

There are going to be labor and supply problems. Some of this could be overall (certainly NOT for people and families who lose loved ones) good for wages, and job availability (we know this from the Black Death, and the Spanish ‘Flu) and shift balances of power, and probably move jobs back to various nations.

History also shows that some industries are counter-cyclical. In depressions/recessions the sales of beer (cheap alcohol) go up, as does the sale of vegetable seed, and camping gear… and, historically (although not in the last downturn) books. These are all cheap, improve the quality of life for people having a hard time when there isn’t a lot to spare.

I think this time around books have a reasonable chance of doing better – it is entertainment you don’t need company for, and can make up for company. And – particularly Indy, it can be very cheap for a few hours of escapism… which has really valuable effect on people doing it tough.

It really helps.

It is rather nice to think that we write the sort of books that give that relief – and the writer and the reader can both win.  I suspect uplifting entertaining non-real-world fantasy will be a boon to readers.  I expect trad industry will respond as usual with gouging and books they think people ought to read. I’m hoping the rest of us have the sense not to go that way, and to keep it cheap and entertaining.   It’s a grim situation, but taking someone ‘away’ from that, into an absorbing book-world even for a few hours, has helped me cope with grim things, and I am sure I am not alone in this.

Image of a fantasy Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

37 thoughts on “Some thoughts on pandemics and their impact on writers

  1. Hear hear, Dave!

    Books are always good; for knowledge, for inspiration, for hope, and for distraction. And may there be more of the kind of books we write, both by our friends, and others out there who we don’t know of, but fill the need!

    (me, I wish sometimes printer ink were much cheaper, as there are some things I’ve found online for knowledge/instruction purposes, that I wish were not locked in PDF…)

    1. Maybe try starting a “club” in your area of people who go in to buy a big, expensive, commercial (laser?) printer, bulk paper, & a binding system, for the purposes of making hard-copies of that sort of material available to members?

      1. Recession, possibly, depending on how long this drags out. The 1000 point drop in the Dow because of coronavirus issues is annoying.

        Of more concern is the 25% fatality rate from CORVID19 that was reported from Iran (12 out of 47 cases.) Hold on! Hold on! I know, that’s a paultry sample size and terrible for actual statistical extrapolation. But it does sound similar to what isn’t being reported out of China, and what we can expect in 3rd world nations this epidemic runs through.

        Trivia: Corvids are the family of birds that contains crows, ravens, rooks, jackdaws,jays, magpies, trrpies, choughs, and nutcrackers. Commonly known as the crow family.

        Have to watch out for printing “club copies for members” as that could negatively impact your income stream from book sales. I can see allowing people who actually bought the e-book to print a single hardcopy for their own satisfaction, since they’re footing the printing bill.

        1. Might be worse in third world totalitarian dictatorships than in regular old third world kleptocratic hellholes.

        2. It’s COVID, not CORVID. WHO wanted to make sure it wasn’t named after any place or creature, just to avoid confusion. (Current speculation is pangolin virus crossed with bat from live market conditions. Zoonosis is a bitch.)

          1. Other current speculation is that this is a war bug escaped from a bug factory in Wuhan. Peter Principle still works in Communism, and Murphy never sleeps.

            One would think a war bug would be more fatal than this, but maybe it was constructed by a lowest-bidder contractor…

          2. Yes, indeedie, zoonosis is a bitch. Especially when you have indiscriminating parasites that like people as much as they like other animals.

            That’s precisely why we need to be super duper careful when it comes to placing human genes or tissue in other animals, or vice versa. Because those crosses, hybrids, or chimera become the perfect, living, Erlenmeyer flasks for mixing and breeding unique deadly cross-species plagues.

            Subplot for a science fiction novel I read several years ago where a woman was in permanent quarantine after receiving a pig heart and developing a very transmissible virus that caused a fatal cancer in other people. She, being the original host, was somehow immune to it; the perfect Typhoid Mary. I’ll have to see if I can dig it out, if I can remember which one it was.

        3. I have done that, but scanning in each page, and printing with one’s weekly 50 page allowance is tedious. So the last one was some years ago. It was OP/OSI and… Let’s see – hey, it’s down to $70! I had to ILL it from the U.K.
          It’s best for things like being completist about one’s James H. Schmitz collection.

        4. I made exactly the same “CORVID-19” mistake, & made a joke (in poor taste) about WHO naming it “Magpie-19” on Baen’s Bar a few days ago…

          Considering it is a CORona VIrus (Damfino what the “D” is for) I think we can be forgiven for adding the “R” though.

        5. I can see allowing people who actually bought the e-book to print a single hardcopy for their own satisfaction, since they’re footing the printing bill.

          The idea I had was less ‘print for other people’, and more ‘print a copy for my own family library’, particularly of stuff from Gutenberg. And yeah, I’d buy an e-book if I want to print it, and only for my own copy, because sometimes I can’t buy a physical copy first hand (so that the author gets some money.)

    2. Laser printers have become a lot cheaper too, and while an individual cartridge is still expensive, I can print multiple reams on that one cartridge …

      1. I had to go Laser as I print so little, ink dried and heads plugged, so any thing I needed printed cost even more. A Brother MFC works nice, and wasn’t much more than a color printer (though not a color laser)

          1. This was on sale for $220, and I really don’t need a color printer 90% of the time.
            I might go color eventually, but I had two must haves. Had to work with Linux, and be cheap. Brother actually makes linux use easy. They have the drivers and support, and it was the cheapest scanner and printer set up that would work. (I got an old Epson scanner that was high end at the time and it never worked under linux.)

            1. Another thumb up for Brother lasers on Linux. I had to do a 32 bit library for the drivers, but the relevant HOWTOs got me through it with minor pains.

              IIRC, the printer was about $150 and does duplex. I think it’s not in production anymore, but I trust Brother.

              1. Brother has a rather good Linux support on their site. My last Mint install, printing worked without going to Brother, but I have yet to need the scanning, just using the copier function (actually needed it while neither system was hooked to the printer!), so I never checked to see if it was working.

  2. not just books but also movies and video games. i think last downturns lack of book sales may be related to people expecting preachy grey goo

  3. The Black Death was the framing story for the Decameron. So, whatever happens, I like it for artistic inspiration. (I may eventually wind up eating those words, but that is my current feeling.)

    There are some non-fiction publishing opportunities in flow of information with books. Teaching universities have long been vulnerable to disruption, and this could be the one. Could twitch like, youtube like, or amazon kindle like opportunities replace those? STEM is the fields that have retained their values as degrees best. That is a plus and a minus for innovation opportunity. Plus, in that a new system might give higher value for money. Minus, in that the status quo is still adequately met.

    I’ve been reading a little about some of the math publications prior to 1923/1924. How well could you make a STEM curriculum that relied as much as possible on public domain works?

    I’m interested in learning what happens with fiction sales.

  4. Ebooks, where you’re buying a product that’s never been touched by another person, may get really popular. I’ve got some solar recharging batteries with USB ports for charging phones and eReaders. They may turn out to be handy, rather than silly-survivalist-gadgets-you-never-use.

    1. While you may be right, I really don’t want to see a solar phone charger as must-have kit for home use. Or a splitting maul and felling axe either. This is Canada, the spring weather will kill you faster than the Kung-Flu. Winter, that’s another whole thing.

    2. Yesterday I was looking at kindle and paper prices for some light novels.

      Kindle, certainly wasn’t printed in China, and not shipped through a distribution center contaminated with infection.

      Paper, won’t disappear on you if either the publisher or Amazon are untrustworthy, or fail.

      At the prices the MGC regulars charge, I’m not that concerned about the demerits of Kindle.

      Distribution of medicine and food is the more key issue. I think that this is a great opportunity for innovation in manufacturing and distribution.

  5. “We know (as with flu) that the older you are and more underlying conditions you have the worse one’s chances. ”

    And there are ripples to this, as I have discovered.
    I’m 66 years old, which means that all of the health care people start to have kittens when I get a cold. Between the DEMANDS by family members that I call the doc as soon and as often as possible, and the doc shifting from “take two Tylenol and call me in the morning” to “GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM RIGHT NOW,” I’ve incurred quite a few medical expenses. In my case, we are able to squeeze the payments out of our budget. Don’t know how many other seniors are also able to do that.

    I wish to acknowledge that I am astoundingly fortunate, by an accident of birth, to have access to wonderful, comprehensive medical care. I also wish to acknowledge by an accident of employment (didn’t pick the career because of this, I mean), I have wonderful, comprehensive health care insurance. So, I am complaining of a fringe effect that likely most of the world would earnestly desire.

    Still, it HAS had a financial impact. More dough going to deductibles and co-pays and what-not means less available for books, etc. And therefore, my decision several years ago to go with an annual Kindle Unlimited membership gains significance. I don’t even open the emails I get from the major publishing houses anymore, because I know I can’t buy their work. Period.

    Wouldn’t it be funny if what finally killed off the Big Houses was the flu?

  6. Best thing I’ve read all day on Covid19. “The little we do know says this is not THE LAST CENTURION. Many people do survive, some barely are aware of being ill.”

    Well said sir! It’s like your an author with books that I love, and buy immediately on publication. Oh wait.

    Thank you for that bit of sanity today Dave. Seriously.

  7. Australia already has a preliminary vaccine set to go to animal trials. Mind you, the trial process takes months, but six weeks is an astonishingly short period of time to come up with a possibility.

    1. I hope so. Australia is a popular tourist destination for Chinese, and it’s a little nerve wracking for me to have two babies when I go out and about (and I have to bring them.) Was having lunch at a local eatery after a routine kidlet checkup and packed up very shortly after some Chinese-speaking tourists came in. I figure, they might have been from Singapore, but…

  8. I’m concerned. enough to have already stated taking precautions,but all of us need to remember nobody gets outta here alive.The end result being the same,death, how much does it matter exactly how we get there?

    1. I think the Bible lists two people who have gotten out of here alive. IIRC Elijah and Enoch made it to Heaven without dying first. Even Jesus and his Mother died first before being resurrected and assumed into Heaven.

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