Notes on the Virus

Part of me always believed that the way we lived was too good to be true, so none of what is happening has come as a surprise. Maybe it’s because I come from a family of pessimists. Maybe it’s because I’ve started writing science fiction again, and so was prepared for the idea that the world might try to outdo me. Maybe it’s because things really have been too good to be true in the western late-capitalist bubble, living on the virtues of cheap credit and the parental comfort of just-in-time.

I remember a summer night from a few years ago, in the flat I rented on Blackstock Road. My brother and daughter were staying over, and we’d all cooked a meal and stayed up into the evening playing cards. I went out and bought a pineapple from the street and brought it back, and we all ate it in the summer evening, looking over the buildings beyond my flat, the grubby urban vista glowing in the rich sunset. It reminded me of the time my mother had given me a pomegranate in the kitchen in the Shropshire cottage where I grew up, breaking apart the odd red crystals of this fruit as though dissecting a miracle. As we ate the pineapple, I wondered if my daughter would come to remember that night in the same way: her father wandering onto the street and returning with this piece of exotic fruit, as though it was the most natural act, as though it represented a way of the world that would never change.

Have things changed forever? Maybe, maybe not. I know that we’ve toyed with some of what is happening in our language and behaviour over recent years. Of course social distancing would result during the age of social media. Of course a virus would erupt as the relentless memes rain down, attempting to go, well, viral. We’ve anticipated this situation in our unconscious priorities, like the aliens in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End who guide the human race through the last days of its time on earth. For years, they remain aloof and mysterious; when they finally reveal themselves, they have the cloven hooves and horns of mythical Satans.

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