We have written previously that antibiotics will change the way we live. Sara Kenney has a much more apocalyptic view, in her new graphic novel Surgeon X. The former TV producer and director summarizes the story in Graphic Policy:
The set up is that Rosa Scott is a surgeon in London, 20-years in the future, trying to save lives when most of the antibiotics are no longer working. Everything else plays out of that set-up and so inevitably the obstacles she faces are related to this world.
Kenney explains in her notes at the end of the comic that she worked as a TV producer and director in documentaries and dramas, including the long running medical series Casualty. She applied for, and received, a grant from the Wellcome Trust which usually funds scientific research, but wants also to increase the public's awareness of medical issues. She writes:
It was vital to get the science, medicine, and medical humanities aspects right and not just because I am a massive geek, but also because it makes the storyworld more layered and unexpected. So I put my journalist's hat on and contacted a group of incredible medical, scientific and medical humanities experts...
The scientific advisors would say things to me like "I am frightened for my children" or "you are not being extreme enough with your vision at all." What could be a more visceral and important a storyworld than the one we are slipping in to now? The reality is that for probably close to 100% of you reading this article now, you or a loved one wouldn't be alive today if it weren't for antibiotics. But because antibiotics are relatively cheap and widely available we currently take these extraordinary drugs for granted. But how much longer will this last?
I have not read a lot of graphic novels, and this is in fact the first I have ever bought. However it is a great format for telling such a story; graphically showing how the antibiotic apocalypse has affected society; how doctors decide who gets treatment with the few they have left (don’t be old or fat), how dialysis and any other treatment that risks infection is over, how everyone fears the smallest cut. In between all the explosions and drama, there is a real story here.
And worst of all, the autonomous taxis of 2036 want to talk to you. Now that is truly scary.
And this is only Volume 1! As another reviewer reminded me, Arthur C. Clarke once said that “...science fiction is something that could happen - but usually you wouldn't want it to.” Using that definition, this is great science fiction. Surgeon X, Written by Sara Kenney, with art by John Watkiss, and edited by Karen Berger. Available from Image Comics.