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The Patron Saint of Plagues

The Patron Saint of Plagues

3.7 8
by Barth Anderson

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In this biological thriller of the near future, postinsurrection Mexico has undermined the superpower of the United States. But while the rivals battle over borders, a pestilence beyond politics threatens to explode into a worldwide epidemic. . . .

Since the rise of the Holy Renaissance, Ascension—once known as Mexico City—has become the most populous


In this biological thriller of the near future, postinsurrection Mexico has undermined the superpower of the United States. But while the rivals battle over borders, a pestilence beyond politics threatens to explode into a worldwide epidemic. . . .

Since the rise of the Holy Renaissance, Ascension—once known as Mexico City—has become the most populous city in the world, its citizens linked to a central government net through wetware implanted in their brains. But while their dictator grows fat with success, the masses are captivated by Sister Domenica, an insurgent nun whose weekly pirate broadcasts prophesy a wave of death. All too soon, Domenica’s nightmarish prediction proves true, and Ascension’s hospitals are overrun with victims of a deadly fever. As the rampant plague kills too quickly to be contained, Mexico smuggles its last hope over the violently contested border. . . .

Henry David Stark is a crack virus hunter for the American Center for Disease Control and a veteran of global humanitarian efforts. But this disease is unlike any he’s seen before—and there seems to be no way to cure or control it. Racing against time, Stark battles corruption to uncover a horrifying truth: this is no ordinary outbreak but a deliberately unleashed man-made virus . . . and the killer is someone Stark knows.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Anderson has some serious writing chops, and he delivers a page turner that is at once a medical thriller, cyberpunk romp and provocative tease...a novel about race and class, science and faith.”—Salon.com

“A cinematic, futuristic techno-thriller with smarts and heart…This cleverly managed skein of cliffhangers and revelations begs to be filmed.”—San Diego Union-Tribune

“Very neat, impossible to put down, and I hope a book that gets nominated for some awards.”—Philadelphia Weekly Press

“This is Barth Anderson’s debut novel, and it’s a stunner…A book of high verisimilitude and exacting precision. Anderson has taken the monitory example of John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up, a Cassandra mode too long left moldering, and combined it with a typical bio-thriller such as Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain to produce a hybrid that is both scientifically and science-fictionally robust and still propulsively suspenseful."—Sci Fi Weekly, Grade A

“An exciting journey full of surprises.”—Dallas Morning News

“The topic is timely (viruses and pandemics are hot), and the just-around-the-corner world is very well realized, full of smart extrapolations from today's technologies and social conventions.”—Booklist

“Destined to find [a] highly appreciative audience…Anderson successfully joins with Greg Bear, Paul McAuley, and a few others in wedding genuinely SFnal speculation with the template of the formula thriller. There’s a genuinely thoughtful SF mind at work in The Patron Saint of Plagues.”—Locus

“A well-constructed, politically aware techno-thriller with an intriguing plot…when ‘best first novel’ lists get discussed next January this book will be one of the first suggested.”—Emerald City

“Tense, plausible and twisty enough to keep you breathless and guessing.”—Agony Column

“An apocalyptic prophesy masquerading as a near-future pandemic revenge thriller...riveting reading.”—Strange Horizons

“A smart, entertaining, imminently readable book.”—Maureen McHugh, author of Mothers & Other Monsters

“Barth Anderson’s inventive viral emergency may be set in a speculative near future of saints and cyborgs, but it has a persuasive real-world urgency. He nails the gritty essence of disease detection: frustration, exhaustion, obsession.”—Maryn McKenna, author of Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service

"The topic is timely (viruses and pandemics are hot), and the just-around-the-corner world is very well realized, full of smart extrapolations from today's technologies and social conventions."—Booklist

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
4.33(w) x 6.84(h) x 1.06(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Patron Saint of Plagues

By Barth Anderson


Copyright © 2007 Barth Anderson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0553588354


Sunday, May 15. 11:00 a.m.


Mottled gold on green, like the shimmer of foil or the gleam on a sheen of motor oil, the plant looked unhealthy from stalk to leaves. Systemic cell death. Vein clearing and branding, which appeared as dark varicose veins shooting across withered leaves. Classic.

"This ain't happening," Stark said.

He scanned up the row, looking for more infected spinach plants. His grandfather's method of defense against vCaMV was to change up the varieties throughout the rows, planting no two plants of the same variety within ten feet of each other, which made for jagged, uneven growth and shaggy rows. Had the method broken down here? Stark could see the Bloomsdale spinaches, the Olympia, the Sailorman, de Wilde Savoy, and the Oklahoma Green, alternating through the rows. To outsiders, the seemingly haphazard plan looked like madness, but "gold mold," as the array of variants of cauliflower mosaic virus was commonly called, had never appeared here.

Adjusting his straw fedora to block the sun, Stark knelt and clipped a small leaf from the young spinach and slipped it into his field press.

"May 15," he said to the press, as it sighed nitrogen, enclosed the sample, and consulted with the NIA satellite.

A momentlater, the field press confirmed the obvious. vCaMV was here, on this farm, the place he grew up.

He stood and looked across Nissevalle Valley. The greenhouses had been emptied of sprouts, and fields were planted and primed for summer storms and sun. For nearly two decades, farms from Alberta to Chihuahua had battled seasonal vCaMV outbreaks for meager yields. Gold mold was known to sweep through whole regions in a single season, like a slow-motion prairie fire. But it had never come to Nissevalle. This quop was poised for another very profitable year, and losing shares now would be a disaster. Spinach rippled with passes of May breeze, and so did the corn, low and fluttering. Field hands in hats like Stark's weaved through the young crops as tillers dogged behind, maneuvering through the tomatoes on preprogrammed weeding missions. The idyllic haze of Nissevalle Farm suddenly looked like so much rot.

"Jesus," he whispered. "It really here."

After eighteen years away from this farm, Henry David Stark was still getting himself apace with death's routine visits here. It was one thing to behold it in a hot zone, or an anonymous hospital, but another entirely to see death pass between the paddocks and hay barns of his childhood. Yesterday morning in the creamery, loud with lowing and meowing and the mechanical gasp of milkers, a heavy-headed cow swung her face away from bright headlights shooting suddenly through the dawn's fog and stepped backwards with a stomping hoof, catching a small kitten unawares. Stark had cried out, trying to scare the cat from danger. But blink. Gone. Then, last night in the goat barn, Stark watched as three kids, slick with blood, slid out of their nanny's body, but without so much as a kick, or even a breath. Stark was surprised how such small passings troubled him, after what he'd seen in, say, China's Borna outbreak. But he'd left the CDC's Special Pathogens Unit to take charge of its Surveillance and Response Central Command two years ago, in order to distance himself from death's rhythms. In bringing the Central Command (that is, himself) to the co-op farm last January, it was inevitable that he'd synchronize himself with death--yet again.

The biggest rhythm of all, however, was the one that pounded straight to the brink--the farm's end. It was always there, that deadly rhythm--hail, a tornado, financial ruin--but as a boy, he never listened to it. Standing over the dying spinach plant, Stark felt that countless days on a farm could never make it ordinary.

As he began thumbing information about the spinach's variety and location into the field press, a stylized, red asterisk appeared before his eyes, eclipsing the LED display and his fingertips.

Bad timing.

His impulse was to shout across the spinach field to his grandfather, who was just now returning from disking up the green manure field on his International. But the field hands would hear, and most of them had lost their own farms to vCaMV. Yelling that he'd found gold mold would be like shouting fire in a burn ward. Instead, he took off his hat and waved it over his head.

The red asterisk pulsed across his vision again. Congo's yellow fever, probably. Maybe the vaccination program's net hadn't been cast wide enough, and Queen Mum was alerting him to the need for more stockpiles. Stark glanced at the field hands working their way toward the spinach fields. On a quop farm like this one, everyone was judged by their work. It had always been that way, even from Stark's childhood, when he couldn't wait to get out of the Junior League gardens and show that he could work with the adults. Even with the CDC calling for him, Stark didn't like leaving the field so soon after entering it.

Grandfather pulled up on the International Harvester he called Methuselah. A tall man, sturdy as a two-by-four, Grandfather's skin was so dark he seemed made of wood--and thanks to the krono he'd received in his forties, he looked half his ninety-one years. "What's shaking?" he said over the blatting engine, hands resting on the steering wheel. His heavy work gloves looked absurd with such skinny wrists sticking out of them.

"Shaking?" Stark shouted back. He rarely understood his grandfather's anachronisms. Or at least, he pretended not to.

"Did you find something?" Grandfather asked from atop the Harvester, older, even, than the man driving it.

The tractor wafted an enticing smell toward Stark: cut cover, a green and nourishing smell. Grandfather's cover crops of choice were buckwheat and oats, and he'd just tilled a field of them into the dirt, where they would compost and enrich the soil. Grandfather also claimed it was a defense against gold mold. Strong soil. Strong plants. Fewer diseases.

"Look, I hate to leave," said Stark, smelling green buckwheat as his grandfather cut the engine. "We all just started, but I got to check in with Mum."

While the tractor gave a protracted cough as it tried to fall silent, a red asterisk lit before Stark's eyes again. Red (as opposed to blue or yellow) usually meant that the Queen Mum was simply alerting him to an emergency. But when Stark blinked at this one to clear his vision, an urgent was waiting for him. He'd be able to read it on the interface in his contact lens's receiver, but he wouldn't be able to save the message or respond to it. It was a one-time shot. Whoever sent this message was desperate and had formatted it so that Stark would receive it without having to use his "brain gear"--a high-ranking official in a major health organization in dire need of speaking with Stark directly. While his grandfather slid down from the tractor on slow, rickety knees, Stark read the message.

Sunday 15 May URGENT, Attention Dr. Henry Stark, the Ministry of
Well-being of the Holy Renaissance is not negotiating this outbreak with momentous etiquette.

The message would only be available for a few moments, but he took the time to reread that. Even after a third read, the sentence still made no sense to him.

Grandfather realized that Stark wasn't paying attention to him. "What? Bad news?"

Stark didn't answer.

Minister Alejandro bore into the kingdom two WHO virologists, but they are commencing on untrue discoveries. This dengue is not dengue. It is not allocated by small flying beasts. Please touch me as soon as possible. I am the unique man witnessing reality. Urgent. Dr. Pedro Mu-oz.

Stark pursed his lips, frustrated. The Central Command's surveillance and response software was falling apart, obviously. "Look, I got to check in."

"I know that," Grandfather said, slipping off his gloves.

Stark gave a little astonished laugh. "How you know?"

"You start blinking hard right after you get your bat signal," said Grandfather, gloves in one hand, the other resting on his hip. "Plus, it's the only time I actually see you look nervous about anything."

Stark smiled. He liked that, though he imagined it wasn't the Code Red that made him look nervous. "Something else you should know," said Stark.


How to say it? Was it possible to break such news gently? This was a model farm in many ways, from its Land Reform cooperative structure to its success against vCaMV. In the corner of his eye, the infected plant fluttered like a green fire. Finally, he simply handed Grandfather the field press. "It all in here."

Grandfather took the press without opening it. "Why a doctor of your caliber, upon whom the whole world depends, elects to speak like a backwoods hick is beyond me. Whatever happened to the verb 'to be,' anyway?" he said in a sour voice.

"It clumsy."

"'It is all in here.' Say it."

"'It is all in here,'" Stark said in a grand English accent, slipping halfheartedly into their old banter. His eyes flitted to the field press. "I got to go."

He turned and ran up the gravel drive to the manor, feeling as though he'd activated the timer on a grenade and shoved it in his grandfather's hands.

Nissevalle Manor was a four-story mansion built with Land Reform earnings ten years ago, and it housed the fifty-three working members of the quop. The house stood on a small bluff overlooking the farm's barns and sheds, the quilt of five-acre private fields, and the much larger, hundred-acre cooperative fields sprawling against the southern hill faces in this valley.

Stark ran up the dirt road from the spinach field and past the penetrating stench of the poultry barn, then yanked open the back door. From the spiral staircase, he could smell the posture-straightening scent of bacon frying. Dalia the Kitchen Czarina was feeding the early crew down in the dining hall after their shift, and as he ascended the spiral staircase to the fourth floor, Stark could hear a friendly argument about milk prices in the first-floor buyer's den, someone singing (badly) in a shower, the whine of the house pooch, an e-phone ringing on the second floor, the three Wheeler kids speaking in their imaginary language, a tractor's sudden bleat from the barn, laughter, chimes, a dripping faucet.

The cacophony of home.

Stark's fourth-floor room looked west over the members' private fields. An afterthought of a cubbyhole in the unfinished, pinewood hall, it was icy in winter, broiling in summer, and Stark knew the quop had given it to him because nobody else wanted it.

He didn't complain. As a CDC administrator, Stark didn't bring much to the daily workings of a farm. Sure, he was an intern, a weeder when he wasn't sampling for vCaMV, but if he'd stayed here for the last twenty years instead of accepting the Junior League's scholarship for college when he was eighteen, he would have been a coordinator with years of experience in the quop by now. His choice of rooms. A senior share at profit disbursement. But now he always had one foot planted in the outside world--in the Congo, or in the vast urban outbreaks that blossomed from Kazakhstan to Kirkuk. Stark knew that he was occupying a space that might better be filled by a farmer, so small as his room was, he was grateful that the quop was willing to house him at all.

Stark opened his bedroom door and swung his canvas bag onto the floor, ready to grab his brain gear, park his rump in the rocking chair, and contact the Command Center's satellite.

But he stopped short, hand still on the doorknob, as he realized that someone was standing in the middle of his room. Half in surprise, half in greeting, Stark said, "Hey."

The stranger lifted his face, lit with a sudden flash of alarm. It was Earl, the new arrival from Baltimore--a big, strapping fellow with forearms the size of bread loaves. As their eyes met, Stark was about to step backwards into the hall, but Earl seemed more frightened of Stark. "Oh. Hello," he said. "I--"

"What going on?" said Stark. "Why you in my room?"

"Pardon me, please," said Earl, his bush of black hair bobbing as he took a step toward Stark and the door. "I think I in the wrong room."

Stark snorted in mockery. Everyone knew that new arrivals like Earl stayed with the nonmember interns in the first-floor dorm. With gold mold still wiping out farms every summer, even experienced field hands were lucky to get a membership here. "I think you knew you ain't in the right room." Stark's eyes darted to his brain gear, still dangling like a rubber squid on his rocker. Then his eyes shifted to his desk, where all the discs and his memboard sat, just as he'd left them last night. His only valuables hadn't been touched or taken. "What you want in here?"

Earl looked honestly shocked and embarrassed. "Nothing. I promise. I--" He took a step toward Stark and the door.

Stark blocked his way. "Come on. What you doin here? You didn't steal nothing that I can--"

"No. Search me if you like." Earl raised his hands. "I ain't no thief."

"Then what you want?"

Earl's face colored. "I met a girl. She told me she lived up on the fourth floor. I thought this was--"

"You lie good," Stark said. "But you lyin." His fists clenched in anger--and fear, as he contemplated what this huge man could do to him if things got rough. "You looking for the head of Surveillance and Response, ain't you. You reporting to someone overseas?"

It wasn't long, but Earl paused and blinked, and Stark knew that he'd hit the mark. "No, this girl said--"

"Well, you found me," said Stark. He spread his hands and let them flop to his sides. "Now what? You obviously don't want to interfere with me, or hurt me, or you'd a done it already. Might as well tell me who you're with."

Earl sighed and apparently decided he was done with the act and done with Stark, shoving him aside with a hard sweep of his arm.

"Go downstairs and pack up," Stark shouted at Earl's back, following him to the stairwell and yelling after the man as he ran down the steps. "Gonna see to it you get kicked out! Tonight!"

Earl picked up speed, running downstairs, but then he stopped and stuck his head into the center of the spiral staircase, looking up at Stark. "You think that scares me? You think I some homeless farmer looking for a handout from your grampa?"

"You the one runnin."

Earl grinned wolfishly up at him, and said, "I ain't the first to get inside your room, Dr. Stark of the CDC." Then he started trotting down the stairs again, saying, "And I won't be the last."

From the Trade Paperback edition.


Excerpted from The Patron Saint of Plagues by Barth Anderson Copyright © 2007 by Barth Anderson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Barth Anderson's short stories have appeared in Asimov's, Strange Horizons, Polyphony, Alchemy, Talebones, The Journal of Mythic Arts, and a variety of other quality venues. Barth received the Spectrum Award for Best Short Fiction in 2004, and he writes regularly for Utne Reader's Best of Indie Press-nominated Wedge Newsletter. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and son. The Patron Saint of Plagues is his first novel.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Patron Saint of Plagues 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
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TK_75 More than 1 year ago
The book was at times hard to follow but I enjoyed it. It provided an interesting look at a world of tomorrow that I would not have really ever imagined.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The concept of this book was great, but I personally felt it could have been executed better. It was hard to get attached to the main character, Enrique Stark, for some reason. He was a neat sort of guy, but aloof to the reader. Never really pulled any heartstrings, for me at least. As for the general concept of bioterrorism and all, good, scary idea, should have kept me up all night, but I found that the book was more littered with politics and with the technical aspects of the medical community more so than how the plague affected the people. The focus was more on the doctors than how the virus affected individuals in the community, so none of the characters really had an impact or made you feel like you were living it with them. Well-written though, the story managed to hold my attention to finish it, although I only read it when I was bored and looking for something to do. It was never a page-turner that I couldn't put down. Recommended for people who like political drama, but if you're looking for an intense medical thriller, this one's an okay choice, but there's much better out there.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In the not so distant future on an alternate Earth, Emil Obregon is the president for life in a fascist Mexico thanks to the support of the Holy Renaissance Party. This theocracy has an alternate Pope who broke away from the Vatican and has much power over the country. Most of the population is hooked up through implants to the Pilone, an online form of the net that allows the government to keep track of its citizens.------- Mexico and the United States are at war with the former annexing Arizona and New Mexico as well as part of Central and South America. When Dengue Fever threatens to kill much of Mexico¿s population, doctors like Henry Stark from CDC rush over there to help. The airborne virus constantly mutates after studying it the researchers conclude that it is manmade and someone is still spreading it around the country. If Stark and his team don¿t find the carrier, 80% of Mexico¿s population will die.---- This is as much a medical thriller as it is a futuristic alternate history tale. Readers will be fascinated by the theological fascist regime that has the church¿s blessing but the focus of much of the book is Stark, a man not interested in politics but in saving lives. Barth Anderson is a gifted storyteller whose debut novel is a roaring success. His descriptions of a futuristic Mexico are so vivid that readers can easily visualize it.---- Harriet Klausner