Please welcome Karen Heuler to The Qwillery. Glorious Plague was recently published by Permuted Press.
We all have an underlying assumption that our brain is giving us the right information, since reality is merely whatever the brain shows us. When I asked my students to prove to me that a particular chair existed, they declined. They’re no fools. Proof of reality? No. We only know the objective world through our subjective world, and there’s no way they can prove that the particular chair I pointed to was objectively there.
The most they could do was tell me what their individual senses reported—sight, sound, taste, weight. But all our senses are relayed through the brain, and if the brain makes an error, then that error is reality. A good hallucination is as real as anything else.
It’s been a particular obsession of mine, this stuff of the mind, and made me so much love Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, wherein people attempt to adjust to the world their brain describes, no matter how troubling.
It’s small wonder, then, that my latest novel, Glorious Plague, is about a change in the perception of reality.
A virus that causes bugs to climb to the top of plant stalks leaps the species barrier to humans, and people all over climb to the highest point—rooftop, treetop, road signs, bridges—and sing gloriously until they die. Why do they sing? It’s a by-product of the disease, which coincidentally affects the musical part of the brain.
Because of the virus, there is a burst, an interest, an up-swelling, an incredible world of song—which only ends with the victims’ deaths. Until then, each person who feels the pull of the virus searches for the particular song that haunts them, and joins it.
The survivors begin to try to organize New York from scratch and as people try to reinstitute the structure of New York, they realize that they can declare themselves to be anything—a cop, a doctor, a boss—because that’s what they want to be. When angels appear, when Ganesh runs for mayor, when people walk in the world of their stories, it isn’t questioned. Very few people are left within “real” reality—only Dale, who is searching for her daughter, and Omar, a low-level entomologist who does his best to discover a cure. But then Dale finds a place in the new world, and Omar has a decision to make about accepting this world or not
So—where’s reality here? Is Omar's world real if only he can see it? Is everyone else wrong, because they believe they’re seeing what Omar believes they aren’t?
It’s tricky. Things change all the time, and change is part of reality. Which, when you think about it, is absurd. Do we believe our reality changes? Aren’t we sure it’s stable?
Permuted Press, Spring 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 296 pages
Hallie is missing—and so are thousands of others. Everywhere people are singing—climbing to the rooftops, to the bridges, to lamp post and road sign, steeple and water tower, singing gloriously, triumphantly, tirelessly—and dying.
Hallie’s mother, Dale, goes to Manhattan to search for her. She drives in from rural New Jersey, passing abandoned cars and trucks, to make her way to the jammed George Washington Bridge, rejoicing with hymns and gospel and rock and opera.
The plague moves swiftly, and the city’s survivors form new communities, dealing with the rotting corpses, trying to re-establish a new infrastructure for the new order.
And odd things happen—angels come to earth, Christ drags his crucifix around Rockefeller Center, the Indian god Ganesh runs for mayor—but it doesn’t seem remarkable to the survivors. A man falls in love with a mermaid and decides to throw in his fortunes with hers, only to be attacked by an animal liberated from the zoo. Politics begins to assert itself, as do real estate issues, and it matters what—and who—you believe. It’s time to choose sides.
Karen Heuler’s stories have appeared in over 70 literary and speculative magazines and anthologies. She has published four novels and two story collections with university and small presses, and her last collection was chosen for Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2013 list. She has received an O. Henry award, been shortlisted for a Pushcart prize, for the Iowa short fiction award, the Bellwether award and the Shirley Jackson award for short fiction. Permuted Press just published her novel, Glorious Plague, about a beautiful apocalypse.