Plague by Rene Lafayette, originally published in Astonishing Science Fiction, starts simply enough, a ship docks looking for help. When I first read about the ship all I could think about is this is why you do not go on a cruise. Disease is always prevalent on a cruise ship. For frame of reference I am writing during the Covid-19 quarantine and it reminded me of all the ships that were stuck at the docks during the beginning of the quarantine.
The ship docks on a planet which has a policy of non interference in medical matters especially contagions. They do not want to get sick. So the head of the government simply sends the ship away with the assumption all of the passengers will die in space. As always those in charge are so compassionate.
This annoys our protagonist, a doctor, who upon hearing about the ship wants to study and treat the illness. In this world the medical community is separated from any ties to any government. Another way this story hit home during the Covid-19 quarantine. Frankly it was surreal to read this in a story from the late 1940’s as I observe it on the news daily.
Our protagonist, Ole’ Doc Methuselah, comes off as the sane angry character. When reading about him I got the sense that he was an old codger who was upset with the youth of his time. This image was not shown in the illustrations that accompanied the short story. He appeared as a glamourous spaceman who had a pretty woman at his feet. His personality in the best light can come off as a person who is frustrated because he is intelligent but no one will listen. (Typically what I feel around my students) I felt he was more portrayed as a know it all jerk. (What my students and sometimes my wife thinks of me) It didn’t matter that he was correct. This really was shown by how many times his assistant reminded him to not lose his temper around others.
Ole’ Doc sets forth his plan. He dons his glorious cloak and defies the government to treat this new “plague.” By this time in the story, you get the sense he is correct and knows how to solve the problem. Who knew that those who base their claims in science and fact tend to be correct. His plan is simple let the government officials get sick with the plague. As soon as they become sick they beg for his help.
Not to give away the surprise ending, it does give a good argument for vaccinations. Anti-vaxers would not like this story. The conclusion dealt with a major issue for the time which should not be an issue for the present day, but now is one. Without any insight into the thoughts of the author, it still sends a powerful message about the role in science in our society.
I did feel this story could have been fleshed out more. You just jump into the action. It was written as if you had already known the characters. Frankly someone at the time who followed Astonishing Science Fiction publications might have known them. This is the first one I have read so I do not know, but do plan on finding out. This easily could have been an episode of Star Trek.