Interview with Jim LeMay

I understand your first novel, The Shadow of Armageddon, is the first in a post-apocalyptic series. What makes it different from other such novels?
First of all, I’m not crazy about the term “post-apocalyptic.” It implies the prediction of imminent and universal destruction, often with religious connotations. I prefer to think of my novels as end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. Unlike other such books Armageddon does not rely on Last Man themes, invented diseases or (shudder) zombies. The disaster is indeed caused by an illness but not by a virus which we all love to fear, a highly unlikely possibility. Armageddon describes an extant disease that is vicious and increasingly virulent. True, Connie Willis’ great novel, Doomsday Book, concerns an actual disease but her protagonist had to travel almost 650 years into the past to confront it.
If this is an existing disease and it’s so dangerous, why haven’t we heard about it?
You have. It is antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The news is full of articles concerning the many forms it takes: MRSA (methecillin-resistant Staphlycoccus aureus), enterococcus, MDR-tuberculosis and many others. In the first novel, in 2072 a bacterial infection that doesn’t respond to antibiotics kills 80 to 90% of the earth’s population. No one knows exactly how many died. Too few people survived to maintain civilization, let alone keep track of the death rate. Many of those who remain succumb to starvation, disease or violence.
Without giving up spoilers give us a glimpse of your protagonists.
The story begins thirteen years after the pandemic. It follows a group of men who’ve found a way to make a living. Known as scroungers, they scavenge for goods among the vast ruins which they sell in the few small communities. The reader learns about the sense of loss and despair that haunts the older gang members. They and other survivors try to make sense of their desolate world. The orphaned youth, John Moore, the youngest gang member, born while the disease raged was affected less by it. He’s fascinated by the world before the pandemic. Its wonders, from flying machines to talking billboards, sound nearly magical. Through his eyes we learn what the lost world was like and what its survivors believe about the causes of the pandemic.
Despite the novel’s grim theme I hope the reader finds it not without humor, which people seek as relief from tragedy, however briefly it lasts.
How are the characters similar to and unlike people of today?
The biggest difference shown by the survivors and the present population is the traumatic event that killed most of their families and the people they know. Those feelings are exacerbated by the mystery of what caused the pandemic. Apart from that, I tried to extrapolate current trends in American society into the future: The increasing gap between rich and poor and educated and uneducated, the growth of science denial.
What led you to write about antibiotic resistant bacteria?
A newspaper article some time in the mid-90s got my attention. It told about a teenage boy in Mozambique who got bubonic plague. Wait a minute, I thought. Didn’t antibiotics wipe out bacterial infections once and for all decades ago? Maybe this happened because of less than hygienic living conditions. Fortunately a cocktail of antibiotics saved the kid. But I began to see other articles about antibiotic-resistant bacteria. By the turn of the century such infections were clearly on the rise even in the developed world, especially in hospitals.
Let me add that I don’t really expect a pandemic as disastrous as the one I write about. Our lives will most likely return to the way they were in pre-antibiotic times which was less than a hundred years ago. That will seem horrific enough for a couple of generations. Mortality rates among women giving birth will rise. Few will choose to have elective surgery because of the danger of infection. But we’ll adapt. After all, we lived without antibiotics for our first couple hundred thousand years as Homo sapiens.
What kind of research did you do in preparation for the book?
Though the Shadow of Armageddon is my first work of fiction, writing non-fiction taught me the value of research. I started out reading articles and books targeting laymen interested in science by Richard Dawkins, Stephen J. Gould and others. I returned to some I had read before to review the portions pertaining to bacteria. One book that gives a very detailed history of the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria is Stuart Levy’s The Antibiotic Paradox. Then I checked pertinent governmental agency websites produced by the NIH, CDC, FDA and others. One site that gives a lot of good information as well as an invaluable bibliography of medical journals is that of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths or RID. I must admit that when I read medical journals like the New England Journal of Medicine I had them open on one half the computer screen with dictionary.com open on the other. The more I studied bacteria the more fascinated I became with the weird little critters.
Do you believe pharmaceutical companies will create antibiotics that can defeat these sophisticated bacteria or will they have to find a different type of cure?
Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have slowed development of antibiotics to fight these new dangerous bacteria. They favor fighting more newsworthy diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. You see, as antibiotics become more sophisticated bacteria are quick to evolve new defenses to combat them. Companies are reluctant to spend billions of dollars in research if a virulent variety of bacteria evolves resistance in a short time. Bacteria in an environment rich in nutrients double in number every 20 minutes. A single resistant cell can become over a billion sister cells in ten hours.
Though I didn’t mention it in the novels there are other promising areas of research. One is the use of bacteriophages, viruses existing in nature that infect and destroy bacteria. Some scientists are exploring the possibility of developing bacteriophages specific to selected types of dangerous bacteria.
How do your characters survive a return of the infection?
Fortunately, as is the case with many other diseases, survivors of this infection tend to be immune to it, thogh a few succumb to its return.
What are the long-term effects on the society of the future?
Civilization collapses because too few people remain to maintain it. Institutions, including governments, disappear. Cities become uninhabitable ruins. Plugged drainage facilities allow rain, snow and water from frozen, burst water mains to turn streets into swollen rivers. Abandoned nuclear plants spew radiation for hundreds of miles. Volatile gases blow up chemical plants or escape to poison the air. I believe a centuries-long dark age would follow such a pandemic. Far less disastrous calamities have destroyed many cultures before.
What future books in the series can we expect to see?
The second novel, A Shadow over the Afterworld, is already available at Smashwords. I’m working on a third novel which I hope to have ready for publication soon. The Shadow of Armageddon, by the way, is free here at Smashwords.
How can interested parties inquire about the progress of your work?
They can check out my blog at www.in-the-shadow-world.com. There I cover a miscellany of topics, from Angels to Zymurgy and from serious to whimsical. My email address is jimlemaybooks@gmail.com. Then there’s my Smashwords author page at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jimlemay
Published 2015-02-16.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Shadowspawn
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 133,490. Language: English. Published: March 31, 2017. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic
(5.00)
Jack Mors turns 18 in the 677th year of the dark, violent age following a devastating pandemic. As the mysterious thief and prankster called the Shadow, he moves smoothly between the City’s criminals and aristocracy, owing allegiance to neither. But staying aloof doesn’t keep evil and good from stalking him. Murder claims a benefactor though his unborn child will enjoy great wealth.
Shadow Jack
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 134,410. Language: English. Published: March 22, 2015. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic, Fiction » Adventure » Action
(5.00)
In 2072 a mysterious disease sweeps the world, killing nearly everyone. Civilization collapses. A long Dark Age of ignorance and superstition ensues. In the 676th year after the pandemic, Jack, an orphan boy, makes his precarious living as the mysterious thief called the Shadow. His life becomes even more dangerous as he is drawn inexorably into a centuries-old search for a lost cache of gold.
The Shadow of Armageddon
Price: Free! Words: 131,150. Language: English. Published: January 4, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Utopias & dystopias
In 2072 a deadly disease sweeps the world, killing nearly everyone. Governments and civilization disintegrate. Twelve years later, Matt Pringle’s scroungers meet John Moore, an intelligent orphan boy attracted to the adventurous life he imagines they lead. Matt cannot dissuade him from joining the gang even though death’s shadow stalks it. A larger rival gang chases them across their empty world.
A Shadow Over the Afterworld
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 149,950. Language: English. Published: February 21, 2013. Categories: Fiction » Science fiction » Apocalyptic
(5.00)
In 2072 the ancient war between mankind and bacteria clash in a worldwide pandemic which kills nearly everyone it infects. Civilization and governments collapse. Gang member John Moore and Mayor’s daughter Alicia Coleridge, despite their very disparate backgrounds, must find out how to adapt to each other and to this new empty, unsympathetic world which many have come to call the Afterworld.