March Newsletter: I Got Chipped!

My GP is a real pro. I barely felt the needle go in.

I looked away anyway, and I kept examining the wall while she gave the jab to Pavlina. I’ve been seeing a lot of needles go into a lot of arms on TV. That dimple of the skin pressing down.

So this is it, I thought as I held the alcohol pad against my arm. There goes my dose of AstraZeneca.

I’ve heard a lot of conspiracy theories over the past year: Covid-19 was a hoax, it was no worse than the normal flu, it was a biological weapon designed either by the US or by China in an attempt to wreck the other one, it was transmitted by the 5G network, it was step one in allowing Bill Gates to put a microchip in your brain. In one class, we were going over phrases like “I got a shot” and “I got the jab,” when a student told me, “in Bulgarian we say ‘I got chipped.’

“I got chipped,” he said. “But I still don’t have WIFI.”

The student in question is a healthy thirty-something programmer, and the reason people like him and me could get vaccinated in March is because our government gave up on the priority system. I think they managed to get most of the doctors and nurses vaccinated, but teachers balked.1 But even when the vaccine was available to anyone who requested it, there were still all these vials sitting forlornly in freezers. AstraZeneca was already deeply unpopular before the blood clot thing.

The student with the WIFI joke was a little worried during our class. He was afraid that when he said he’d been vaccinated, he’d have to defend his decision. Maybe half the people I talk to don’t want to get vaccinated. For them, the small risk of getting the shot is scarier than the much bigger risk of eating at restaurants or sending your kids to school. How human, I thought, believing that I was more rational than that.

And yet, when I got the jab, I was scared too. There were these conflicting reports on blood clots. About whether AstraZeneca was effective at all. I imagined all sorts of symptoms before I felt the bruise-pain around the injection sight. What would be next? “Stop being silly about this,” Pavlina and I told each other. “If you calculated the odds of getting killed by thrombosis versus getting killed by the Corona Virus…”

Except we’d been through the odds before. Our older daughter’s congenital bilateral hip dysplasia was at most a 0.4% chance.2 My colon cancer was about the same,3 not to mention the complications from the first surgery that nearly killed me. What’s the chance of both? For us, it’s 100%. In our experience, unlikely medical catastrophes do happen.

Because medical catastrophes have happened, though, Pavlina and I have learned some things about decisions and uncertainty. We don’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by the prospect of death. We’ve worked hard on breaking our habits of second-guessing and worst-case-scenario-spinning. “Stay the course,” we told each other. We had decided to trust our doctor; now we had to trust ourselves.

There were almost no side-effects. Pavlina felt sleepy and feverish on the second day, and I had some joint pain, but we’d stocked up on paracetamol, ibuprofin, and aspirin. Also on our doctor’s advice, we took antihistamines every morning for three mornings starting on the day of the vaccination.

More importantly, we didn’t let our imaginations run away with us. We stuck with our routines when they comforted us, and otherwise we took naps. After the jab, we looked for signs that we were healthy, rather than sick. We managed to sleep, and work, and live normally. What else can you do?

At the time I’m writing this, AstraZeneca (the company) has stated that the 37 cases of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism among the 17 million people who have received their vaccine in the EU and UK constitute a much lower rate of these conditions than the general population – you are more likely to die that way if you don’t get the vaccine.4 On the other hand, the Paul-Ehrlich Institute has found that out of 1.6 million vaccinations, there have been seven cases of cerebral vein thrombosis, which is higher than the general population.5 The European Medical Agency says the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risk, but the German Ministry of Health has restricted its use to only people over 60. We surely haven’t heard the last word yet.

The pandemic has taught us all a lot about uncertainty. How many people have Covid19? Of those, how many of those does it kill? How much does being inoculated protect you? The answers are there, but they are fuzzy, and they change both as new data comes to light, and as the world changes out from under us.

We shouldn’t pretend that we have certainty when we don’t. And yet we don’t have time to wait for certainty to form. All we can do is try to make good guesses, and move forward.

I still don’t have WiFi.


The Mountain in March

Behind cold and windy clouds.

Daffodils tremble.


Ooh ho! Footnotes! How tedious they are to format.

In other news…

Interchange! The Advance Reader version is ready for reviewers to read, and YOU, my friend, you can be a reviewer! Just head on over to NetGalley or click this finely crafted widget:

I do appreciate reviews, even negative ones. They’re the only way I’ll learn.

The Sultan’s Enchanter is still out with publishers, and The Centuries Unlimited is safe with my agent Jennie. I sent “Levski’s Boots” to the Inklings…it’s about twice the length they want, but hopefully they’ll give me some advice on how to cut it.

And now, after living for two goddamn months in, as it were, the footwear of a late-nineteenth century Balkan man, now I’m gearing up to begin my third draft of Wealthgiver…which is if anything, even more nineteenth-century Balkan. Only two thirds as manly, though. Anyway, this will be the “skin” draft, which means by the time I’m done with it (probably by July), you’ll be able to beta-read it. “Vikru!” as the Vassians say. I’m pretty sure that’s what they say. I’ve almost got the sound changes nailed down.

But you don’t have to wait until July if you want to read something of mine. I’ve started serializing “Petrolea” here on my website. You can start reading it here. Updates daily.

And finally I’m going to be moderating a panel discussion about Speculative Evolution for the Flights of Foundry scifi convention. My guests will be Peter Watts, Julie Czerneda, and Casey Lucas, so it’s sure to be very interesting. Why not join us? Registration is free. 

And here’s what I read

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams – I tried a new technique with this one: read the end of the (nonfiction) book and see whether the author and I share a world to the extent that I can make use of their insights. So I saw immediately that there’s some good stuff here – eat right so that you feel like exercising, aggressively interrogate your failures, and focus on systems, not goals. There’s some good autobiographical material to back that up. too. And I admire the hell out of the reason Adams wrote this book in the first place: help other people overcome dystonia. I hit a wall around the middle, though, where he stops digging deep within himself, forgets to be vulnerable, and starts griping. This still isn’t quite the “Make Time with a focus on health” that I’m looking for, but I’m getting closer.

Balancing Accounts” by James L. Cambias – a nice little story about robots, money, and morality.

Murder and Mendelssohn by Kerry Greenwood – There’s a succession of dead choral directors, and a cute gay romance Sherlock/Watson fanfic. I liked this one more than the last couple of Phryne Fisher books, I think because the romance and mystery plots were more tightly woven together.

Black Stone Heart by Michael R. Fletcher – I was very pleased to discover this book, which is “the Ancient Evil has returned!” story from the perspective of the Ancient Evil. He’s been reborn as a teenage boy with most of his skills and memories missing, and now must recover them…by tracking down other shards of himself (also teenage boys), and murdering them. There is quite a lot of murder. Also sex. And satisfying character growth. I enjoyed all three, although I did hit a speed-bump halfway through where the author forced his characters to follow the outline, rather than let them continue doing what they wanted to do. There is a payoff for that, though, so keep reading.

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett – Ah, what a delight this book is. I’d read a Chekov story just before, and this was the antidote I needed. A bowl of hot fatsup to brace me against the cold winter.

On Horseback Through Asia Minor by Frederick Burnaby -this was research for “Levski’s Boots,” and it gave me a very good perspective on late 19th century Ottoman geopolitics. Not my perspective, but there are clearly real people in there, and they have interesting opinions. The kadi with a utopian-atheist picture of the future, the pro-Ottoman Armenian, the local guide who just hates sea voyages. Burnaby liked the Ottoman Empire, and wanted to think the best of it. He wanted to be right about it, and on the right side of history. There’s a definite theme of “those atrocities didn’t happen, and if they did happen, it was someone else who did them, and if it was the Ottomans who did them, it wasn’t as bad as everyone is saying.” I was reminded of Facebook.

The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge – On my second attempt to re-read this book, I finished it. The Children of the Sky has two problems: it’s not at all the same kind of story as the first two books in its series, and it’s not nearly as good. It’s trying to be a cozy murder mystery/romance with some bigger things to say about sweat-shops and maybe fake news, but it never gets there. It never says them. There are glimmerings of something great here, but nothing got the development it needed. Based on “Fast Times at Fairmont High” versus Rainbows End, I theorize that Vinge’s process is to write the story, then completely rewrite it. I wonder whether with Children of the Sky, we’re looking at step one.

And I found out that my library has stocked the e-versions of magazines! I read the March Cook’s Illustrated and the last two editions of the Economist. Nice.

Finally, you really ought to listen to Long Way Down and Northwest Passage.


See you next month!

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1Milcheva, Emiliya (22 February 2021). “Ваксинацията в България: защо се забързаха”. (in Bulgarian). Retrieved 26 February 2021.

2“Developmental dysplasia of the hip”. (23 July 2018) Retrieved 31 February 2021.

36% of American males times 7% of those diagnosed before they turn 40. From Dozois et al. “Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer in Patients With No Known Genetic Predisposition” (19 May 2019) Retrieved 31 February 2021.

4“Update on the safety of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca”. (14 March 2019) Retrieved 3/31/2021.

5“Paul-Ehrlich-Institut – News – The Paul-Ehrlich-Institut informs – Temporary Suspension of Vaccination with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca”. Retrieved 16 March 2021.

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