Tom Whitmore Reviews Kingdom of Needle and Bone by Mira Grant

Kingdom of Needle and Bone, Mira Grant (Subterranean Press 978-1-59606-8711, $40, 125pp, hc) December 2018. Cover by Julie Dillon.

In Kingdom of Needle and Bone, Mira Grant has written a classic SF tale: it would have been right at home in Gernsback’s Amazing Stories. It’s a medical thriller with some twists, about a variant strain of measles that affects people’s immune response system so that vac­cines no longer work on them, which means most people who catch that measles, even in a sub-clinical form, become vulnerable to other diseases. Dr. Isabella Gauley is on the front lines fighting the disease, and comes up with a fairly radical solution that might save at least part of the human race.

It’s a strong story, well told: Gauley is a sym­pathetic character, very reminiscent of Dr. David H. Keller’s protagonists who try to do well in a difficult and imperfect world. The story is dark, and there’s a very strong undertone of examining the true nature of the Hippocratic Oath (“First, do no harm”) in a world with eight billion people in it. Is letting some people die doing harm? What makes the story difficult is the large number of technical asides about how immunology works, what herd immunity is actually about, how sci­ence moves forward. The story often gets lost in the didactics, and it takes some time to pull back out again. Like the best of Keller, though, the problems are real, the characters feel like people I’ve known, and in the end the humanism shines through. If you can get past the expository lumps, or even enjoy them (which I mostly do, actually), this is a very good novella.

This review and more like it in the December 2018 issue of Locus.

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