© Keith Taylor 2017. Published with permission.
All that follows is true.
In 2014 a team of researchers from the National Center for Scientific Research in Marseille, France carried out a deep survey of the coastal permafrost in Kolyma, a remote region in the northeast of Siberia. They recovered samples from thirty meters beneath the surface that had remained untouched, frozen in time, for tens of thousands of years, and in those samples they found something unusual: an ancient virus previously unknown to science.
Pithovirus sibericum was a virus larger and more genetically complex than any known in the modern day, containing more than 500 genes and large enough to be visible under a standard microscope, and the team, led by Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel, returned the sample to their laboratory eager to investigate further. There they made a startling discovery.
The virus was still alive.
After 30,000 years laying dormant beneath the Siberian permafrost sibericum awoke, and when exposed to single-celled organisms the virus began to reproduce and aggressively infect the host cells. The sample was quickly destroyed as a precaution.
When news of this discovery caused alarm among the general public scientists rushed to reassure them that the risk of human infection from ancient viruses was minimal. Edward Mocarski, professor of microbiology at Emory University, said that only "a very small proportion represent viruses that can infect mammals, and an even smaller proportion pose any risk to humans." He dismissed the suggestion that humanity had anything to fear from beneath the frozen wastes of Siberia.
Claverie and Abergel, however, remained unconvinced. They argued that a combination of climate change and industrial activity could lead to the accelerated melting of the permafrost and the reemergence of ancient viruses that had remained trapped for millennia; viruses against which we have no natural defenses, and for which there exist no vaccines.
"At the moment these regions are deserted and the deep permafrost layers are left alone," said Claverie. "However, mining and drilling means digging through these ancient layers for the first time in millions of years. If viable particles are still there, this is a recipe for disaster."
In 2018, they were proved right.
From the Author
A LITTLE MORE THAN ten years ago I found myself on a rainy day in Paris, soaking wet and painfully hungover, stumbling through the narrow front door of Shakespeare & Company on the left bank of the Seine, quite possibly the most charming independent bookstore in the world, and almost certainly the place to which bibliophiles are taken when they die.
I don't know why I was there. I'd already scoured the science fiction shelves of the little bookstore many times over, and in any case Shakespeare & Co. is far from the ideal place to ride out a hangover. It's tiny. It's packed with tourists from dawn to dusk. You have to take a sharp intake of breath and carefully plan your movements whenever you pass a fellow customer in the cramped aisles. One wrong move and your epitaph will read 'Buried beneath an avalanche of clumsily stacked copies of The God of Small Things and assorted Discworld novels.'
After half an hour of listless browsing I was about to leave empty-handed, the literary equivalent of blue balls, when something caught my eye. It was the spine of a book carelessly shoved in the gap between two shelves of French poetry, and from the title I guessed that it didn't belong within a mile of the slim volumes of Rimbaud and Verlaine that lived on the shelves. I also guessed that I'd found the book I was looking for.
It was World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks.
I read the book in an afternoon, and then three times again within the month. I was captivated. Addicted. Here was a novel that took a tired, cliché-ridden genre and an epistolary style that had gone out of fashion with the Penny Farthing and turned it into something that was as close as you can get to literary crack. I couldn't put it down. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Most of all I couldn't stop looking forward to the slew of novels I was sure it would inspire. I expected at any moment to see the dawn of a new age of post-apocalyptic science fiction books, an age of stories stripped of blood and gore but grounded so deeply in the real world that they felt like non-fiction.
And so I waited. And waited. Then I waited some more, and before I knew it a decade had gone by and not a single author had attempted to pick up Brooks' baton. There were some great post-apocalyptic books out there, of course, but nobody ever tried to write anything as real as World War Z.
Late last year, following the unexpected success of my Last Man Standing series, I finally ran out of patience. I'd waited a decade for an author to come along who could grab me like Brooks had with a post-apocalyptic novel that felt not so much like a work of fiction as a prediction of a future yet to come, and I decided that if nobody else was willing to take on the challenge I'd go ahead and do it myself.
This book is the result. This is the Way the World Ends is an extended love letter to the epistolary storytelling style used to such great effect by Brooks. I could never hope to write something as captivating as he did, but I like to think I at least captured a hint of the flavor. I hope you enjoy it.
Dedicated to Max Brooks, who took an old way to tell a story and made it feel new.