Resistant is a doomsday thriller.

There’s no end of doomsday scenarios that threaten the survival of the human race. These days, we talk about the climate crisis. Nuclear war sometimes, too. Pandemics. And of course there are many others: a super-volcano eruption, a meteorite strike, a massive solar flare, and many others. But now we’ve got something else to worry about: the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Which is the theme that Rachel Sparks adroitly takes up in her own doomsday thriller, Resistant.

Resistant opens in 2041 on a farm near Woods Hole, Massachusetts. There, Aurora (Rory) Stevigson and her father live a nearly self-sufficient life in the face of a society that is gradually disintegrating. One-seventh of the American population has perished from untreatable infections, and all the rest live in fear of the germs that could kill them, too. And the microbiologist whose research held out the most hope for humanity has died: Rory’s mother.

Resistant by Rachel Sparks (2018) 216 pages ★★★★☆

A corrupt government research program in this doomsday thriller

Near Washington, DC, under the command of the US Army, other scientists are gathered together in a program known as TEAR, the Task Force for Epidemiological and Antimicrobial Research. Ostensibly, TEAR is seeking a cure on behalf of the American public. Yet that is not the case. In fact, TEAR is run by a corrupt general, in league with several US Senators, intent on selling the cure to the highest bidder. And, realizing that, Rory’s mother had left TEAR and moved to Massachusetts shortly before her death.

Sparks shifts perspective from Rory to TEAR’s commander, General Bill Keller. It soon becomes clear that Rory is in danger as the General believes she may personally be resistant to all microbial infections and thus represent the key to a cure. But help arrives unexpectedly at the Stevigson farm in the form of two ex-military men. Together with Rory and her father, they develop plans to foil TEAR and advance research toward a cure.

The science on which this story is based

“Nobody had ever thought antibiotics would just stop working,” as one of Sparks’s characters exclaims. Yet that’s exactly what is happening around the world today. The culprits are the massive use of antibiotics in animal husbandry to fatten livestock, over-prescription by healthcare professionals, and ignorance by millions of people who insist on using antibiotics to treat viral diseases against which they’re ineffective. As a result, the World Health Organization states that “A growing number of infections – such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis – are becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become less effective.” And the upshot is, according to WHO, “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” You probably didn’t want to know that, but there it is.

For further reading

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In fact, speaking of dystopias, I’ve written a book that explores the subject in depth. It’s called Hell on Earth: What We Can Learn From Dystopian Fiction. I must admit, though, that I failed to include the resistant scenario.

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