The Surrealism of Writing about A Pandemic During a Pandemic Hasn’t Escaped Me…

In October 2020, I spent an hour on the phone, helping a fellow author put his self-confidence back together.

He’d just released his book for 2020.  He’s traditionally published, and NY publishers generally don’t allow authors to write more than a book a year (which is considered amazingly prolific by NY standards).

His book is urban fantasy, too, and set in contemporary times, just as mine are.  And on the very first day of the release, he received three one star reviews because his story failed to mention anywhere that the world was battling the COVID pandemic.

Unfortunately, traditionally published novels have very long pre-release periods–over a year in most cases.  And the author write those books in the year before it’s sold, if not years before that (it takes months to hear back from a publisher if they’re even going to buy the book).

In my friend’s case he’d written the book five years before the release date.  There was no possible way for him to predict the exact shape and size of the COVID19 crisis.  He set his book in the contemporary world as it was right then.

I write SF under a different pen name and I usually keep a half-eye on what the futurists say might be coming down the pipe for humanity in general.  Interestingly, nearly all the futurists (Kevin Kelly is a favourite) and scientists who write for general audiences have been saying for years that civilization was overdue for a pandemic.

Also, the Doomsday Clock, which (as I write this) stands at a mere 100 seconds from midnight.

Prior to late 2019, most of the scientists and futurists and SF authors were saying that the most likely scenarios for an apocalypse would be 1) meteor strike (of which we still are woefully under-prepared to deal with), and 2) pandemic.

Well, we’ve got the pandemic, and in a way, we are hugely fortunate in that the mortality rate of this thing is relatively low.  The CMR has been calculated to be a mere 0.28%.

I know that sounds horrendous.  Especially when you swap out the percentages for real figures.  Kameron Hurley, on her blog, stated:

We have now lost more Americans to COVID-19 in ten months than we lost in the entirety of World War II.

However, if the pandemic had been, instead, the Bubonic Plague, which has annihilated world populations at least four times in history, including throughout most of the 14th century, the mortality rate of 10-15% for treated cases would have decimated our modern world.

And untreated Bubonic Plague kills more than 50% of its victims.  Some of the less developed countries in the world, or those with high populations, would have had to face this level of mortality among their citizens.

Sound unlikely?  Bubonic Plague is still loose and free in the world.  Yep, you can still catch it.  There are, on average, seven reported cases in the United States each year.   More in other countries.  Unlike Small Pox, Bubonic Plague has not been eradicated.

So to suffer through a pandemic with such a low mortality rate, instead of the cataclysmic disaster a Bubonic Plague would have given us, does make us lucky–just in that one aspect, I’ll grant you.

Because of the “we’re overdue for a pandemic” predictions I’ve been reading for a few years, when I sat down to plan out my very first urban fantasy series as Taylen Carver, I thought it might be interesting to use a pandemic as a world-alterating factor, instead of the usual alternative histories that most UF authors use to explain why fantasy species shop at the local malls.

I had not a single hint that we were about to be struck by the real thing.

And the month the first book of the series, The Memory of Water, was released was March last year, when we first went into active lock-down here in Canada.  I was uneasy about the parallels, too.

So the series itself was conceived in a world without COVID and in subsequent stories I’ve had to stick with that omission, because a world suffering through two pandemics at the same time would come off sounding…well, silly.

I always remember my friend’s one star reviews when I put a new book in the series out there, because now, thanks to true world events, I’m writing an alternative history UF, too

The Orc Who Cried is released today.

Falconer folk are a little strange…

Harley von Canmore, firebird and Chief of Police of Falconer, a tiny town in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, struggles to reconcile her new life as one of the Old Races.  It’s Christmas Eve and bitterly cold, yet Harley is setting fire to her bed while she sleeps, paper burns when she touches it, and no one needs a room heater when she’s in it.

When a body is found at the base of Maze Peak lookout, Harley must put aside her personal issues and investigate. What the RCMP suspect is a simple accident grows complicated when she digs a little deeper…

The Orc Who Cried is part of the Harley Firebird urban fantasy series of novelettes, which is set in the same world as Taylen Carver’s Magorian & Jones series.

1.0: The Dragon of Falconer
2.0: The Orc Who Cried
…and more to come.

Urban Fantasy Novelette

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Taylen.