As a child growing up in the late-’70s and early-’80s, I was convinced a nuke was going to end the world. But that fear has since been replaced by the idea that mankind will instead be wiped out by a plague, maybe even one we make ourselves. Which is why I’m afraid to read The ALTA Project, a biological apocalypse novel by real life medicine man Dr. David Chen. With the book now available in hardcover and paperback after years as a digital title, I spoke to the good doctor about what inspired him to write it, how scientific he got, and what is this rash on my leg, oh god, AM I DYING!?!
I always like to start with the basics. What is The ALTA Project about?
This is a futuristic, medical science thriller with a slight twist. Set a few years into the future, the people of Earth have been forced into a completely different way of life. With regards to the financial, political, and religious climate, everything has changed. Two American scientists with a Biotech company attempted to capitalize on the worldwide pandemic, but things go horrible awry, creating a worldwide cascade of events. One of the scientists is missing, another emerges from a five year coma, and between the new government/police state, an underground militia, and a powerful foreigner, no one can be trusted.
Stories in which a pandemic destroys society are not new. What do you think makes The ALTA Project different?
That’s where the “twist” comes in. Not only is everything in the book plausible, but the underlying theme of The ALTA Project, has in fact, been predicted. The exact details of how the world will change into a new world order — causing the cataclysmic clash and subsequent emergence of a combined political, financial and religious faction — are not known, but The ALTA Project presents a real possibility of one likely scenario. While entertaining and suspenseful, the educated reader with an inquiring mind will have a thirst and need for more information. The book was not written just for entertainment, but to educate and communicate to the people of Earth an approaching apocalypse that while none will escape, it can be planned for.
One thing in The ALTA Project that we have seen before is that one of the characters, Dr. Albert Anderson, wakes up after a five-year-long coma to find this medical disaster in full swing. Which is basically how they started both The Walking Dead comic books and TV show start as well as the first Resident Evil movie. Why do you think this is a strong way to start something like this? And I don’t just mean for your book, but also why do you think other people have started their apocalypses that way?
It captures people attention.
Uh, okay. You’re a doctor. How technical does The ALTA Project get? Does it read like a medical textbook, or did you dial back on the medical jargon?
It was written for lay people. My daughter read it when she was thirteen, and she couldn’t put it down and wanted to know when book two was going to be done.
But, on the flipside, how scientifically accurate is your book, and why did you make it so?
Very scientifically accurate. It has to be believable because, as I stated above, this is warning of a predicted event, and folks must be able to make the two connections.
Were there any times when you considered sacrificing medical facts for fiction?
As I’ve told others: the only reason this book is fiction, is because the events have not yet happened.
Speaking of the medical aspects of The ALTA Project, what were some of the things, both fictional and factual, that influenced how the pandemic in the book would work, both on a global scale and individually?
We live in an extremely fragile environment, medically and scientifically speaking. We just saw the catastrophic outcome in 2014-2015 of Ebola in Africa, and the hysteria that was created thousands of mile away in the U.S. when the risk to the average person was negligible. An uncontrolled virus or biologic could essentially due to the entire world what Ebola did to the five countries in Africa and many times over at a similar or faster speed. This has occurred in other countries before worldwide travel was what it is. Many believe its not a matter of if…but when.
What about the characters, did you base them on anyone specific?
The main characters of the book are not based on any real people. This was probably one of the more difficult elements to get started with. Though some folks will probably make an analogy to current individuals.
Articles in medical journals are peer reviewed. Did you ever consider doing that with your book, either with a medical profession to check the science or with a fiction reader to see if the book was any good?
Not specifically. I had the book professionally edited, but the rest of the material I wanted to be fully original based on the compilation of my background, training, research, education, and personal beliefs.
While you are a doctor, you now work as a medical administrator. Which is a position of authority. How have your coworkers reacted to the idea of you writing a book, especially a book about a global pandemic? Like do the doctors in your hospital’s infectious disease ward eye you funny whenever you come by?
I have neither intentionally advertised nor marketed this to the medical community. Also, based on my current role and title, I did not want people to think I was using my position as a marketing platform for personal gain.
Have you given any thought to turning The ALTA Project into the first book of a series? You mentioned your daughter asking when the second book would be done.
The book can have one sequel. It would be the culmination of what I see as the end of the world and pick up where The ALTA Project leaves off. A series of more than two books would be difficult, if not impossible, to write without stretching the limits of unbelievable.
There’s been a lot of medical apocalypse movies and TV shows lately. Has there been any talk of turning The ALTA Project into a film or television show?
I have submitted the book for a “Hollywood evaluation.” It would make a great movie.
If it was going to be made into a TV show or movie, you’d have no control over who directors it or stars in it. But if they asked your opinion, who do you think would do a good job and why?
Not really sure, there are so many actors and actress that could fit into the various roles, I’d hate to be the one to pick.
Finally, if someone really enjoyed The ALTA Project, what novel would you recommend they read next and why?
I’d suggest they read the sequel to The ALTA Project. But of course, it’s not available yet.