“Sicko” Spread

by Jerry Oltion

The workshop I used to run and still occasionally attend (the Wordos in Eugene, Oregon) sometimes has a meeting with no stories submitted in advance. When that happens, we critique short-shorts on the spot. I wrote “Sicko” [in the current issue on sale now] for one of those nights.

The idea had been percolating around in my mind for quite a while. I’d been seeing hand-sanitizer stations springing up everywhere, and I couldn’t help wondering what kind of superbugs those things were creating. I typically come home from conventions with the “con crud”—the inevitable cold or gastrointestinal illness picked up over the weekend. And I remember a story from years ago, I think it was by Greg Benford, in which the ship’s doctor on a long journey kept introducing respiratory viruses to the air to keep the crew’s immune systems working.

Plus I have a couple of family members who are against vaccination. We get along fine—except on that subject, in which we each believe the other side is completely nuts.


I still treasure the critique that was just one word scrawled across the top of the first page: “Eeeww!” With that single word, I knew I had nailed it. I didn’t change a thing.


So I sat down with all that rolling around in my mind, and I came up with “Sicko.” My workshop mostly loved it. A few people tore it to shreds. I still treasure the critique that was just one word scrawled across the top of the first page: “Eeeww!” With that single word, I knew I had nailed it. I didn’t change a thing.

I briefly considered writing a whole series of similar stories, envisioning a “Climate of Fear” cycle that would address all sorts of political, social, and scientific fears. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to write the next obvious link in the chain: “The Racist.”

Hair standing up on the back of your neck? Mine too. You’re welcome.

I’m not a horror writer. I’m not even a fan of the genre, although I’ve written a few creepy stories. But sometimes you’ve got to tell the story just to get it out of your head.

 


Jerry Oltion is the most prolific fiction contributor in the history of Analog/Astounding magazine, with ninety-four stories as of “Sicko” and more in the pipeline. He has published another sixty or so in various other magazines and anthologies. He has written several novels, both stand-alone and in shared universes such as Star Trek, Dark Sun, and Isaac Asimov’s Robot City. He’s also a columnist for Sky & Telescope magazine, writing their monthly amateur telescope-making article. He is slowly putting his previously published stories up online at Amazon. Visit his website at www.jerryoltion.com.

 

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