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OTHER ITA SITES:
Review: After The Rain
Author: John Beowulf
The periodic small-mindedness and nastiness of academia is illuminated through John Beowulf’s fictitious tale of a Ph.D candidate, John Stevic, of the Department of Microbiology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Stevic more often than not produced experiments that gave inconclusive results.
He also was subjected to physical abuse at the hands of his boss, Professor Carolyne Tanner who habitually telephoned him during the late evening hours and insisted that he immediately come to her home. Tanner, who incidentally was a married woman and highly respected by her colleagues, liked to dress in black leather and play dominatrix with Stevic.
To add to Stevic’s woes was that he had very little money for food and rent and was often ridiculed as the student who would never make it through the Ph.D program.
Stevic’s love life was also in shambles when his high-school sweetheart, Kimba, who was the granddaughter of the famous German General Erwin Rommel known as the Desert Fox during World War II, dumped him. Kimba’s parents had died in a plane crash and consequently she became a ward of the State of California.
As a result, she found herself under the guardianship of a Viet Nam veteran who frequently was unemployed, violent and drunk. Unfortunately, after returning from a week-end stay with Stevic, Kimba was brutally raped by her guardian causing her to loose her womb. After this happened Kimba was removed from the care of her guardian and placed in another home. When Stevic tried to contact Kimba, he was informed by her social worker that she did not want to continue her relationship with him.
However, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the degradation he experienced during the course of his oral exam presentation. It was here that he was cruelly embarrassed by one of the members of the committee, Dr. Stoole. Stevic considered Stoole dead wood and incompetent who fortunately, due to tenure, was able to hang onto his university position.
After reflecting over his future choices, Stevic one day decided that he is going to build the world’s most dangerous organism - the Mother of all Biological Weapons. It would be a biological weapon so lethal that 99.999% of all its victims die a horrible, violent, and bloody death. And in order to accomplish this feat he planned to combine the SARS virus with the Ebola virus.
In order to proceed with his plan he needed a strain of the SARS virus. This led him to an article written by Kimba Saline and Rebecca Robinson who had a strain of SARS they called “UGA.” Stevic, however, never devoted enough time to understand what this strain of SARS was all about. Nonetheless, he requested a sampling of the strain from Robinson indicating to her that he would like to try experiments using the UGA Strain of SARS to see if he can determine how his interferon might trigger a stronger immune response in the host. Subsequently, Robinson sends him the UGA strain of SARS in a live culture flask. Stevic, after once again seeing the name Kimba, wonders to himself that perhaps this is his old flame, however, he doesn’t follow up and presses on with his experiment.
Beowulf’s writing abounds with dramatic detail and well-drawn characters with even a touch of black humor thrown in. His central protagonist, Stevic, is effectively painted as the pitiable graduate student who during the course of less than a month has been robbed twice, sent packing from graduate school, romantically obliterated by a female co-worker with whom he maintained a quiet obsession, heckled and humiliated by a committee member, and driven off the road by a SUV causing him to crash his loved Triumph automobile.
Moreover, Beowulf has succeeded in weaving together an inarguably thought provoking novel of ideas that concludes with a surprising twist. It is also a human story where although we probably would not condone Stevic’s actions, we can sympathize with his miserable life and perhaps even his rationale. What is quite troublesome and scary is that we are reminded how easy it would be for a student of microbiology to create a horrendous weapon of mass destruction considering all the information that is freely available over the Internet and elsewhere. As Beowulf states in his Epilogue, “welcome or not, humanity has entered a new era where the fate of almost seven billion people could rest in the hands of a single, angry person.” Something to think about before going to sleep tonight!
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