Podcast Episode 1.05 – Disease

Episode Notes

Incurable illnesses. Magical maladies. Pandemics. Perhaps this topic feels too real right now, but it’s been explored in sci-fi and fantasy for ages. Diseases can cause panic, start a ticking clock, or force characters to make difficult decisions (do you kill your zombified brother or do you tie him up and play video games with him?). One thing’s for sure: diseases are a pain.


  • Allison’s example: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson (Add to Goodreads).
  • Kyle’s example: Star Trek Voyager.
  • Emma’s example: I Am Legend.
Produced by Mythos & Ink.
Announcement Music: Coffee Beats by Aaron Parsons (Used with permission).

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Episode Transcript

Kyle 0:16
Today’s topic is disease and a special thanks to our patrons Charles S. And Alex M for making this episode possible. You can always join us on patreon@patreon.com slash mythos and ink, maladies I’ve never know how to say that word shoot.

Allison 0:31
It’s maladies.

Kyle 0:32
Maladies? It’s one of those words eboli ever read? I you don’t know how to pronounce.

Allison 0:37
Now second guessing myself.

Kyle 0:39
I know right? incurable illnesses, magical maladies pandemics. Perhaps this topic feels too real right now? It does. But it’s been explored in sci fi and fantasy for ages, diseases can cause panic start ticking clock or forced characters to make difficult decisions. Do you kill your zombified brother? Or do you tie him up and play video games with him? That’s good movie. One thing’s for sure diseases are a pain.

Allison 1:03
So true, Kyle,

Kyle 1:05
I obviously did write this intro.

Allison 1:09
I don’t know what you’re talking about. I am going to start off this episode by talking about a book that I really enjoyed called Elantris?

Kyle 1:21
Oh, sure. Sure. You know not to say maladies but… Go on.

Allison 1:27
I get I said it Elantris.

Kyle 1:30
That’s what I would say. That’s what I would say Elantris.

Allison 1:32
by Brandon Sanderson. This was I believe his very first published book,

Emma 1:38
I think that is true.

Allison 1:39
You probably know of Brandon Sanderson. The author of he finished off the Wheel of Time Series after Robert Jordan died. He has he wrote Mistborn. Lots of people love him because he’s really great. This Prince named Raiden gets what is called the shadow again, don’t know if it’s a disease that used to be basically a blessing that turned people into basically gods and that they would go and live in this city called elantris. But a few years ago, for some reason, no one knows why. When people, this shared change happened to people, suddenly it became a disease and their skin kind of like, starts falling off and looking kind of zombie ish. And they get thrown into the city and left there because no one wants anything to do with these people. And what’s super fascinating about this disease is the people retain their god like ability to never die. But every time they experience any kind of pain, like even a stubbed toe, or like a paper cut, that pain just never goes away. Oh, like, at first you’re like, oh, whatever, a paper cut, you know, but just imagine like that stinging pain. Just always, always being there. And like and then suddenly, now you have a bruised elbow and and nevermind, like if you accidentally fall and like break something that’s it just all keeps adding up. And eventually the people in the city just go crazy from it. One would. And so the story is sort of about his experience and trying to bring hope to the city full of these terribly suffering people.

Kyle 3:35
So the pain just compounds on itself. Like it doesn’t replace it.

Allison 3:40
No, it just keeps adding and adding. So it’s like you get a paper cut. You stub your toe you scrape your our arm. Nothing heals.

Kyle 3:51
Did it ever address something like parenting? Like for me, like I’m constantly aware of my children when they hurt themselves because they scream, but even prior to that, like there’s when they’re a baby, for instance, like you’re hyper aware of everything. Does that ever come into play?

Allison 4:14
From what I remember only adults get it. Oh, okay. You get the change in adulthood.

Emma 4:20
While you’re saying I so I also think you something about parenthood but that was do women with this disorder disease? Give birth ever? Seems like a horrible thing to live with for forever

Allison 4:32
That would be horrible. They don’t address that in the story. So I’m not sure it’s see. It’s almost like it freezes you in time. Almost. So I would. I would guess that you would just like be pregnant forever. I don’t know. Yeah, I’m not sure. You ask really good questions.

Emma 4:53
Brandon can you get back to us with these answers.

Allison 4:56
That’s right! In the sequel.

Kyle 4:59
When we do disease part two, and we managed to secure him to join us the podcast to be wonderful.

Emma 5:04
and very special guest episode.

Allison 5:07
Yeah, but the main crux of the story is like, how do you find hope and not commit suicide when this is your reality forever, I found that I found it really interesting. I think this is good work world building. Because I felt it spoke to the real life experience of chronic pain more than anything else I’ve ever read. And I have chronic pain. And so it was really neat to read this being dealt with and struggled with in a fantasy novel.

Kyle 5:40
Well, speaking of chronic conditions, that goes into my example, this comes from the Star Trek Voyager universe, there is a race of beings called the vidiians. And, you know, whatever they’re just like every other space farming race, they’re advanced. But then they end up getting this disease, which ended up calling the Phage. And for approximately 2000 years, it was killing thousands of people every single day, the disease was extremely adaptive. So any medical treatment that they adapted, it would just genetically adapt and overcome it, it became so fast that they just could not keep up with treatments for this. The way the disease worked was that it actually disrupted the genetic code of their bodies, and it devoured body tissues destroying cellular structures, and it left them in extremely excruciating joint pain. There are people that were known to have died just from pain, just agony. But also euthanasia was very, very common. But what we’re interested in is that we’re this, we get to see these, these this race of people that have still survived carrying this disease. And the way they’ve done it, is they’ve now steal healthy organs from other races, so they capture people steal their organs, implant them into themselves, they can live a little bit longer, until the Phage overcomes those organs. Terrifying.

Allison 7:14
That’s so interesting.

Kyle 7:16
So like this could easily be a super horror episode. And they could make it super horror. But they did do a really interesting, almost, I mean, humanizing the conflict or a giving you such an emotional pull where there’s this moment where you just see, this wasn’t an act of malice. This was an act of desperation. Just an extreme pain gets you to do extreme things.

Allison 7:43
Like a galactic donor program.

Kyle 7:48
Well it’s not exactly voluntary. They didn’t sign the card.

Emma 7:53
Yeah. Do they have species that they prefer? Like? Are there people with better organs that they go after specifically?

Kyle 8:01
There’s a few theories on this. Well, one, there was a race called the Kaizens, which just, I think they happen to be the most prevalent at the time. And so they’re the ones that were there. And it worked really, really well. They did try human, which is how Voyager got involved. But there was a belief as well, that perhaps Klingons, you know, the warrior race, their genetic material could potentially lead to a cure. There was theories about that, as well. So they do think that different races had different impacts, but it wasn’t explored too, too much. It’s always in the back of the lore of Star Trek that’s not fully answered and just expounded upon by fans.

Allison 8:39
They’re basically portrayed as villains because of this thing.

Kyle 8:44
Yeah, like it’s, they start off certainly as villains, right, like you meet this race of people they’re in need, and then suddenly, they’ve stolen the organ of one of your crew mates.

Allison 8:52

Kyle 8:55
right. And, and so clearly, there’s some, like, some disagreement over that.

Allison 9:02
And I love stories when people do evil things, but for a really good reason.

Kyle 9:09
Yeah, you know, it’s one of those things like, is this a good enough reason? Like it’s, yeah, it really stretches that boundary. And I like to Star Trek for that. To me, I felt like this was a really good example of world building because their entire society, social mores, their ethics, everything changed. Because there’s this incurable disease. It changed their entire society, their culture, and everything revolves around this disease. It’s not about advancement. It’s not about personal growth. It’s not about any of that it is all about this disease.

Allison 9:44
That is realistic, because diseases kind of can take over our lives as we know.

Emma 9:54
As we all say, from our socially distant homes where we have left in a week speaking of pandemics that comes up in my example. So I am talking about I Am Legend. So this is a movie and a books I’m talking about the book. So the movie is actually quite a bit different. So in the book, I Am Legend, a pandemic, you know, like everybody’s familiar with Now, unfortunately, but this pandemic is a lot worse than COVID. And that it is wiped out 90% of Earth’s population and turn a remaining 9.8% into vampires. Now, these are actually in the book. They’re called vampires. It’s one of those things where they’re like zombies, but everybody calls them like, you know, some other word where it’s like, gotcha. Do you know what zombies are? So yeah, so they turn them into vampires. And they exhibit traditional vampiric characteristics. So they don’t go out into the sun, they’re repelled by garlic and crosses, etc, etc. Our protagonist, Robert Nevel, is studying this disease in an attempt to understand it, maybe hopefully, he can cure it. And he discovers that a lot of the symptoms of these vampires are actually psychosomatic. So that means that they are sort of just in the vampires heads. So having been driven insane by the disease, those afflicted now behave as they think vampire should behave. But it also depends on the belief of the individual. So those who were Christians are warded off by crosses, but Jewish vampires weren’t afraid of crosses, basically. So they’re kind of acting in a way that aligns with their own personal Yeah, beliefs and what they think vampires should be. And also in his research, Nevel was able to find more effective ways of killing the vampire. So he’s able to, you know, get rid of a bunch of them and protect himself. However, at the end of the story, what we find out is that the vampires have actually been forming their own society, and they know Nevel, who has been slaughtering them as the monster that goes bump in the night, who comes and takes them away and murders them. So it’s a very interesting kind of reversal at the end there, which is why I think it’s good world building, because it takes these tropes like traditional vampires, and the thing that goes bump in the night and it turns it on its head, which I think is some of the best worldbuilding, you can do

Kyle 11:51
First, this question. So you talk about this idea of crosses and Christianity and the Jew. But were there things that like, is garlic just for Italians? Or is there were there’s some things that you didn’t know necessarily of vampires that are perhaps in a different culture that you wouldn’t have anticipated or learned along the way,

Emma 12:09
Nothing from another culture that I wasn’t aware of sort of came up in the book for garlic. So the bacteria that caused the disease was actually very sensitive to garlic and sunlight. And both these things killed it. So those actually were real things were whereas some of the other symptoms were all in their heads was kind of this mishmash of physical and mental symptoms.

Kyle 12:31
Interesting. That would be interesting as like somebody trying to study that, because trying to delineate between one or the other would be a really difficult thing.

Emma 12:42
Right? Yes, yeah, that’s, that’s, you know, is actually is what he’s trying to figure out here.

Allison 12:47
So does he actually, like, change his opinion about vampires? Or are they just Oh, does he always think though these are evil, I’m doing the right thing.

Emma 12:58
So he does have the realization at the end that sort of he’s become this monster and will become like a legend. So he actually interact with this one vampire who seems a lot more human. He learns about this whole society of vampires. And they actually decided they’re going to execute him because of the crimes that he’s committed against them. So he ends up dying in the end. I don’t know if he ever feels necessarily bad about it. But he realizes kind of the impact that he’s been having on them as much as they’ve been having on him.

Allison 13:26
Oh, man, spoiler alert.

Emma 13:31
It’s a really old book, you haven’t read it yet uhh it’s your own fault. It’s 1954.

Kyle 13:38
You already gave us why it was really good world building. So let’s go into questions.

Allison 13:44
All right, I’ll go first, when writing a plot with a disease, consider the impact it’s had on characters lives, even after it’s been cured. Life should not go back to normal. Yes. has the disease change each character in your story? Really, if you have this disease happening, it shouldn’t just be a plot element. That’s only there for a plot element sake is what I’m getting at, like, how does this actually impact your characters?

Kyle 14:13
And I’ll take it a step further with my question saying how does this disease affect cultural mores and society as a whole? So not only it’s not going to happen in a vacuum with necessarily your own character, even if they’re the only one infected, but the existence of this disease, the the understanding of it, how people treat you, that is all part of the cultural makeup. And if your character has it, then how are things going to change in society? Because they have it?

Emma 14:42
And my question kind of goes back to the nitty gritty realities of details. So it sort of what are the medical realities of your disease? So think about things like what makes it better? What makes it worse? Is there a cure? How is it spread, just those little details about the physical reality of your disease in this world that’ll help it make to help it seem more realistic as well as just give your story some logical through ones.

Kyle 15:04
So what have we all been up to this week,

Allison 15:07
I have been prepping the layout, for our second, our second volume of Area of Effect. which is called Always Look Up. And this is a collection of geeky sci fi fantasy essays. And it’s gonna be really great. And because we’re a small press, I also do all the layout and handle our direction and stuff, which I find really fun. So it is basically ready for you to proofread Emma.

Emma 15:39
Yay. I’ll tell you all about high been proofreading.

Kyle 15:45
For me, I’ve got some boring stuff on the go, we’re coming up to year end, which means I’ve got to go through all of our revenue, all of our sales all of our royalties and start paying out some of our authors and then checking against our expenses and managing all of that stuff. So

Allison 16:01
Bboring for you. But good news for our authors.

Kyle 16:05
Somebody has got to do. And so that falls on my plate.

Emma 16:08
Nice. And I have been doing some of our Facebook content. So I’ve been prepping Facebook has this great feature where you can schedule posts in advance. So I try and schedule kind of every month out so I don’t have to worry about posting every day. So I have been working on getting that stuff all ready to go so that you guys can see some excellent contact content over on our Facebook page.

Allison 16:28
It’s just like, making us too real like, Thomas like, oh, there’s no real person behind the post that very day you actually schedule it. It’s true. We do that sometimes.

Emma 16:40
Yeah. But if you like it or commented I always see it that day and it makes me very happy. Come talk to us. We’re so lonely.

Kyle 16:56
All right on that note until next time, fellow wavers go build worlds.

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