He's hot. He's at home in San Francisco's steamiest sexual landscapes. In some ways, Bill Soileau has it made. But the weird bug with which he becomes infected while working in faraway Armenia turns out to be a man-made supervirus that is capable, or so Bill is told, of curing every illness in the world. The catch — or is it? — is that for healing to happen, the virus must be transferred via sex. Bill's the only carrier.
So, soon enough, everyone wants a piece of him.
Kemble Scott considers his new novel, The Sower — whose title alludes to the Bible's Parable of the Sower, because Bill broadcasts seed — Sex and the City crossed with The Da Vinci Code. Politics, religion, science, and the passions of a plugged-in, paranoid society merge in a fantasy set not in the future but in an alternative but recognizable version of the present day.
Once word spreads about Bill's remarkable ability, "he becomes the most wanted man on the planet," explains Scott, an Emmy Award-winning former TV newswriter and producer whose 2007 debut novel, SoMa, was a Lambda Literary Award finalist. And suddenly, "the idea of sex as something 'good' turns out to be very threatening to many powerful people and institutions."
He chose to set part of the story in Armenia because "Armenia is the ultimate story of misplaced values" — where, in 1915, "the Turks decided their 'values' were more important than the lives of millions." In seeking "to bring attention to a holocaust some have tried to erase from the history books," Scott also wanted to remind readers that "different types of genocides are actually happening today."
In this imagined world as in our real one, fierce ideological battles rage over the very idea of human beings being poised to determine, on a massive scale, who lives and who dies.
"What would a thriller be without the hero being chased around the world by henchmen working for the Vatican? In today's genre fiction, Rome has become what SPECTRE was to James Bond," Scott joshes, "so I poke some fun at that. But the scene everyone seems to be talking about is one where an unnamed Republican, right-wing, Texas-drawl-speakin' president of the United States seeks the love that dare not speak Dick Cheney's name. Is the character supposed to be George W.?" After conferring with an imaginary lawyer, Scott ventures: "Uh, no comment."
If this alternative present is uncannily familiar — with a swine-flu outbreak mentioned in the novel's first chapter, and a reference elsewhere to Susan Boyle — that's because The Sower is published online, at Scribd.com.
"Digital publishing is fast. You can reach the one billion people connected to the Internet in an instant," marvels the veteran newsman, who will be at A Great Good Place for Books (6120 La Salle Ave., Oakland) on September 3.
And although what happens in this novel is literally a matter of life and death, "I don't want to mislead people into thinking it's a sermon," Scott explains. "In the end, I hope it leaves readers thinking about so-called American 'values.'" Maybe that's enough to make them laugh and cry. 7 p.m., free. GreatGoodPlace.indiebound.com
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