Shark week and smallpox days | Octavia Cade – writer in residence | Week 2 blog

Apr 14, 2020 | News

I made an exciting discovery yesterday. I’ve been in the artist’s flat for nearly three weeks now, and there were still some drawers I hadn’t looked into. I swear I’m as nosy as the next person, but a drawer that on first glance holds nothing more than a telephone book is not a drawer that inspires a great deal of curiosity. Little did I know, hidden by the phone book, was a DVD of Jaws. It wasn’t even in a case. You can imagine my delight. I love Jaws. I’m a horror writer as well as a sci-fi writer, and any movie that involves giant hungry beasts with lots of teeth gets my vote for most entertaining thing to watch during lockdown. It’s the idea that we can be eaten up that fascinates me. (Only theoretically. I can live without firsthand experience.) Being reminded that we’re part of a food web, and not always at the top, is a salutary thing. It gives perspective. We might have intelligence and opposable thumbs, but nature’s still there, ready and waiting to knock us all on our arses. I find that both terrifying and oddly comforting. We’re not always in charge. Best learn to live with it. Now the corona virus is no great white shark, and it’s not even a flesh-eating bacteria (though there’s been some enjoyably awful B-grade horror films about that too), and I don’t know that anyone, even me, would note the thing for its comforting properties, but it is a reminder. A reminder that we live in a world bursting with an extraordinary range of organisms, and that we get to choose how to respond to them. Sometimes that response is sterility. We exterminated smallpox, for example, and perhaps this year, come December 9th, we will all celebrate Smallpox Eradication Day with just the tiniest bit more gratitude than normal, because after this year we’ll all understand just a little bit more what a heartbreaking thing disease can be. It’s nice to see science as saviour sometimes. My background is science, and science communication, so I would say that, but I’m aware that science-as-saviour isn’t always the case. I had a short story come out since last week’s blog post, called “Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead”. You can read it for free at the link there, and it’s about the development of gas warfare during WW1. It’s a ghost story, a horror story – because what else can gas warfare be? It’s also a story of sterility, of the destruction that can be brought down when that toothy, greedy beast is us. Because it is us, sometimes, and the sharks know it too. Shark Awareness Day, should you care to know, is July 14th. Not the best time of year for swimming, perhaps, even should we be allowed back to beaches… but a time to appreciate the things that swim regardless. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch a great white wreck a boat.