Author: jc6146

Creative Scientific Memoir, Nonfictional Thriller Journalism

The Hot Zone presents itself as a scientific, non-fiction thriller. I felt this claim, along with multiple aspects of its prose/published format, were some of the major clashing points of our discussion on Monday. As augmenter, I hope to amplify this debate.

According to Wikipedia (“reliable source” haha),

“Fiction is the form of any work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not real, but rather, imaginary and theoretical—that is, invented by the author.”

“Non-fiction is a narrative, account, or other communicative work whose assertions and descriptions are believed by the author to be factual. These assertions and descriptions may or may not be accurate, and can give either a true or a false account of the subject in question; however, it is generally assumed that authors of such accounts believe them to be truthful at the time of their composition or, at least, pose them to their audience as historically or empirically true.”

The entire summary on non-fiction is sounds eerily similar to the “I try to see through people’s faces into their minds” claim made by Preston in the author’s note discussed during class. By definition, the non-fiction genre provides itself with much more wiggle room, crossing the boundaries between fact and imagination.

As mentioned during discussion, there are multiple instances of fictional literature that incorporate closely researched, accurate facts. The Hot Zone is roughly the opposite: a work based on non-fictional, actual events but obviously incorporating dramatic and sensationalist sentiments. Apparently, there is an emerging genre classified as “creative nonfiction”:

“Creative nonfiction (also known as literary nonfiction or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft.”

According to “the godfather of creative fiction” Lee Gutkind, “The primary goal of the creative nonfiction writer is to communicate information, just like a reporter, but to shape it in a way that reads like fiction”. Gutkind is the founder of Creative Fiction, the first magazine to publish solely works of its titular genre.

Do you think this is a legitimate genre? Or is it just another factually accurate way of writing fiction? Are there any requirements Preston should have fulfilled in order to make The Hot Zone more acceptable as “scientific nonfictional thriller”? What does that even mean?

I hope you find these questions interesting.

PS: Our best/worst dreams have come true: The Hot Zone is being developed into a TV series by Fox. 


  One of the questions continuously raised throughout Animal’s story is the distinction between man and animal. This question is stemmed from Animal’s four-limbed gait that earned him his nickname, most likely because Evolutionist theory places so much emphasis on bipedalism as a defining characteristic of homo sapiens: 

“Bipedalism is a highly specialized and unusual form of primate locomotion that is found today only in modern humans.”  – Harcourt-Smith, The Origins of Bipedal Locomotion 

  Upon further pursuit of this topic, I stumbled upon the interesting story of a Turkish family with a genetic condition called Uner Tan Syndrome which causes them to walk on all fours . While not much is known about this condition, media coverage on this family provides another example of four-legged gait, a physical feature, being linked with a more animalistic state of mind.

“Characterized by loss of balance, impaired cognitive abilities and a habitual quadrupedal gait, it’s a syndrome, Uner Tan theorized, that suggested “a backward stage in human evolution.” In other words, the siblings were thought to be walking proof that our evolutionary advances could — poof — vanish, and we’d be back to walking on all fours.”  (Note: results of this study are highly controversial)

   Another interesting point brought up by the article is that the affected people experience difficulty with language and communicate amongst themselves in their own language (a chilling reminder to Animal’s special position with regard to communication)

 “The syndrome has another price. The siblings are able to speak, but barely, and have developed their own language to communicate with one another.”

  This family has also been the subject of a PBS documentary, creatively titled Family that Walks on All Fours. The trailer is available here.

   What is interesting (and important) to note, however, is that both this family and Animal’s gait is distinguishable from that of primates in that they walk on their palms, not knuckles. What does this say about our perceptions on how we define human beings? Can definition based on physical ability be justified? What about cognitive capability? These are some questions I hope this post has facilitated in raising. 

Harper, Harper, Harper

The distant, quirky, pitiable character of Harper Pitt is an agoraphobe and a Valium addict. She represents the negative harm that can be inflicted on those surrounding an individual in denial of their sexual identity.Troubled by the unescapable truth that is her given reality, Harper cannot leave the house and resorts to drug-induced hallucinations.

Here is some additional information on agoraphobia and Valium to better understand her condition: 


“Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder involving anxiety and intense fear of any situation where escape may be difficult, or where help may not be available. It often involves a fear of crowds, bridges or of being outside alone.” Symptoms include not only fear of being in crowded places, but also a fear of spending time alone. (Perhaps this can explain the frequent presence of Mr.Lies.) Agoraphobics tend to be overly dependent on others (Joe), or stay at home all the time. Some feelings that people with this disorder encounter include feeling as though their body and environment are not real. (Sound like a hallucination?) 


Valium is a drug used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It contains chemicals that can cause anxiety. It is highly addictive and individuals are strongly advised not to take the drug if one has a history of mental illness, depression, suicidal thoughts, or a history of drug or alcohol addiction. Interestingly enough, it is strongly advised to be only used for short-term treatments, and to flush any unused pills down the toilet. Side effects include hallucinations, confusion, depression, and memory problems. Overdose can be fatal.

Here’s an additional link to an organization called the Straight Spouse Network, offering free support to heterosexuals with gay spouses:

Perhaps Harper would have found this helpful.



Dead War, Dead Survivors

Pale Horse, Pale Rider resonates strongly with the “living dead” theme we discussed throughout Ibsen’s Ghosts. Instead of being haunted by the incidents of the past, however, the characters in Pale Horse, Pale Rider are haunted by both the ongoing war and the lingering atmosphere of oncoming death. It is interesting to note that this sense of imminent death, however, is not limited to direct combat in war; rather, it is focused on the dreary lives of the “stay-at-homes”.

Miranda, the main protagonist, is a female reporter who feels as if her life is meaningless. She goes to work, she dates a man, she fulfills her expected duties, but is cynical of the entire process:

“So all the happy housewives hurry during the canning season to lay their baskets of peach pits on the altar of their country. It keeps them busy and makes them feel useful…So rows of young girls… roll cock-eyed bandages that will never reach a base hospital, and knit sweaters that will never warm a manly chest, their minds dwelling lovingly on all the blood and mud and the next dance at the Acanthus Club for the officers of the flying corps. Keeping still and quiet will win the war.” (171)

This social milieu of doing pointless activities for the sake of the war (without actually helping it) is presented as a disaster almost greater than the war itself. It is a contagion infesting itself into wartime society, and is eventually directly revealed in the form of a plague:

 “It’s what war does to the mind and the heart, Adam, and you can’t separate these two- what it does to them is worse than what it can do to the body.” (177)

“I tell you, this is a plague, a plague, my God, and I’ve got a houseful of people to think about!” (183)

Miranda seems to be the only character who is acutely aware of this influenza (of both the mind and body), “I hope I see you once more before I go under with whatever is the matter with me” (170). Nonetheless, the “living dead” is a recurring pattern represented in each of the characters throughout the story. How are each of the characters not quite living? Are there any characters that could be considered fully alive?  If so, how are they managing to do this?

The relationship between the living and the dead is another recurring theme worthy of discussion. The suffering of the living is explicitly mentioned when Miranda introduces the song that begins with “Pale horse, pale rider…” (189). In this song the death, represented by “pale horse, pale rider”, takes away not only lover but also the whole family, leaving “one singer to mourn” (190). And Miranda, in her nightmare, experiences this devastating pain. She sees Adam continuously struck by arrows in his heart and dies, while she cannot help but live and endure everything. Miranda believes that the pain of the living is no less than that of the dead, as we can assume from “It’s my turn now, why must you always be the one to die?” (191). She would rather die than become the lone one who has to suffer from the loss.

In another of Miranda’s dreams, we learn how she handles the memory of the dead.

…something, somebody, was missing, she had lost something, she had left something valuable in another country, oh, what could it be? There are no trees, no trees here, she said in fright, I have left something unfinished. A thought struggled at the back of her mind, came clearly as a voice in her ear. Where are the dead? We have forgotten the dead, oh, the dead, where are they? (201)

In her dream, Miranda enjoys the company of “all the living she had known” in a serene scene of sea and sky, until the pain returns with the memory of the dead. She could live in joy and peace if she would forget everything, but it seems that she cannot let go of her memories of the dead—she feels that “something valuable” is missing. She chooses to bear the remembrance, although it entails severe pain.

How is Miranda’s attitude toward the dead similar with or different from that of other characters we’ve encountered in our readings so far? How can we apply Anderson’s argument regarding the relation of the living and the dead to Miranda’s situation? Does Porter explicitly or implicitly suggest how we should act in response to the loss of beloved ones?

Finally, this novel also offers a much more intimate perspective on disease. The prose transitions fluidly from third person to first person. The reader becomes both an omniscient observer and a part of Miranda’s consciousness, privy to her inner dialogue.

This is especially important when Miranda is delirious and on the brink of death:

 “I shall not know when it happens, I shall not feel or remember, why can’t I consent now, I am lost, there is no hope for me. Look, she told herself, there it is, that is death and there is nothing to fear. But she could not consent still shrinking stiffly against the granite wall…” (199)

When Miranda identifies her own survival instinct, it is described as “a hard unwinking angry point of light” that speaks to her, and yet the light uses the personal pronoun “I”. Miranda is within and without herself, and she recognizes her instinct for survival as an external force pushing her towards life and as a part of herself, intent on self-preservation.

The novel focuses on Miranda – the things that happen around her, her reactions, her observations, her thoughts, even her dreams. The disease itself doesn’t have a strong presence at first, only in the many funeral processions that intersect with Miranda and Adam’s walk. Then, when Miranda contracts the disease and confronts it directly, the disease consumes the pages as it consumes Miranda. Pale Horse, Pale Rider is similar to Ibsen’s Ghosts in that the portrait of the disease is very personal and intimate, perhaps making for a more disturbing effect on the reader/viewer. 


Stages of Grief

According to the Kübler-Ross model, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. (It is to be noted that not all five may occur depending on the individual, and they do not always occur in this particular order.) These five stages can be used to analyze and better understand the characters in A Feast During the Plague.

Denial is the stage in which the individual refuses to acknowledge the fact that a loss has occurred. The young man, who states:

“But many of us still live, and we

Have no cause to be grieving. So

I propose we drink a toast to him

With glasses clinking and with shouts

As if he were alive.” (Pushkin, 96)

is clearly in denial of the fact that there are in fact many “cause(s) to be grieving”, and wishes to proceed “as if he were alive”.

In the stage of Anger, one begins to accept reality, and expresses frustration at the given situation. Envy is also a form of this frustration, as can be seen in Louisa’s scoffing attitude towards Mary: 

“I can’t stand the jaundice-yellow hair of these Scotch girls.” (Pushkin, 99)

Bargaining is the stage in which the individual attempts to bargain with reality, in search of a solution or avoidance of the grief. This is clearly the main stage depicted throughout the literary work, in which the characters are gathered around a feasting table in which they attempt to sing and drink their woes away. 

In Depression, individuals have finally completely come to terms with the situation, and feel a variety of emotions: listlessness, sadness, and fear. Perhaps the Priest, who urges the people to take the more conventional path of mourning, is at this stage:

“If the prayers of so many reverend men and women

Had not consecrated the common gravepit,

I would have thought that devils even now

Were torturing some ruined, godless soul,

Laughing as they dragged it to outer darkness.” (Pushkin, 102)

Acceptance is the last step in coping with grief, where the individual has completely come to terms with, and feels the strength to accept and overcome the given occasion of grief. The ending scene, in which “the Chairman remains, plunged in deep contemplation” seems to imply an oncoming Acceptance of the Plague.