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“The most important facet of this carefully planned attack was that no one could tell from where it had originated. Was it from Iran? Was it from Iraq? Of course, Iran would say it had nothing to do with it. Iraq would follow with the same answer, but it had planned to accuse its neighbor to the east of causing the deaths….The UN and the multinational forces would be in a quandary as to the perpetrator…”
(from pages 177-178, The Gray Zone, by William Russo.)
Does the quotation above seem strangely familiar? If you have been paying any attention to the horrid turmoil of the last few weeks, it does.
Sometimes I feel like the man who said, “I’m having déjà vu all over again!”
Dr. William Russo, who has recently completed a 502-page medical/sci-fi thriller entitled, The Gray Zone, makes me feel exactly that way. Some topics in his book are familiar…and then there are some that are downright scary—even prophetic!
The premise of his new work is that the earth comes into contact with an alien substance that affects life on our little planet in strange ways—both in the past and the present. While this may be reminiscent of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1913 tale, The Poison Belt, or the more contemporary movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Russo puts a different spin on the genre staple, quite in keeping with his temperament.
I met with William Russo at his office where he is a member of a very thriving and busy clinic in East Memphis. I needed a nurse to guide me through the suites on his floor and to deliver me at his office. Once I settled into a conversation with him, however for only a few minutes, I had a sense of a gentle, unassuming person who is meticulous in his chosen profession of treating cardiac disease and dedicated to writing with the same attention and intensity he was giving his medical career.
Born in Clarksville, Tennessee near Nashville, he came to medical school in 1967 and trained in cardiology here in Memphis at the University of Tennessee, receiving all his medical degrees at that institution. He has worked in the field for the last twenty-five years, is married and has two grown girls. He has published a number of medical articles in the local newspapers, The Wellness Guide, and local medical journals in Memphis and belongs to the American Medical Association, American College of Cardiology, and American Heart Association.
William, give us a brief summary of The Gray Zone.
It is a medical scientific novel, which I term a thriller. It is set in a time period from eons before the creation of the earth to the present time. The first part of the book involves the creation of an alien substance that is produced by the collision of a distant populated planet and a comet. This collision produces a new substance that is rare, however it reaches the earth years later. It falls on a small section of the earth where present-day Arkansas is located.
The alien substance gets into the ancient dinosaurs. They, in turn, are obliterated by the mighty catastrophe of the big meteor event on the Yucatan Peninsula. Their carcasses are heaped upon each other and the organic material compressed into what is petroleum today. A brief account of the surfacing of this petroleum-like substance which contains the mysterious alien gray material appearing during the Reelfoot Lake earthquake in Tennessee in the 1800’s follows and its effect and influence upon the townspeople at that time is recounted.
Jump to the modern day.
Two hunters are duck hunting. One is (not surprisingly) a medical surgeon. The two men, riding on a bumpy road, do not feel a mild tremor of an earthquake as they travel to their duck blind. After their successful hunt, they come upon an area near their hunting spot that is saturated with an oily-type substance. They send it to a lab to be analyzed. At the lab, a man (the protagonist of the novel) with a bad case of arthritis and heart condition gets some of the refined substance on his hand, which miraculously begins to feel better, relieving him of pain that he had been experiencing for years. Then, he tastes the liquid and it enters his body at the cellular level. What happens next is truly astonishing.
What of your protagonist?
J.D. Lyle is his name, and he is the one who tastes of the alien substance. He has a bad heart and is much in need of a bypass operation but he is a big chicken! Instead, he works just an hour of two every day, trying to take it easy and not overtax his damaged heart. When he gets back to work one day, the substance is brought in and he is responsible for refining it to see if it is valuable. Only, it resembles a cup of olive oil more than a petroleum product. That is when he gets some on him, then tastes it when his pain is alleviated.
It gets into the rings of his DNA at the cellular level and takes control of his physical well being.
Tell us something of the strange substance.
It is not evil, but helps the bodies that it inhabits to grow and reproduce itself in miraculous ways. It is basically a Fountain of Youth.
Does that premise come from your medical training, Doctor…in that you wish to see people healed and can’t help yourself in writing about it?
I am extremely descriptive about the medical details. In that, I may be like…say Tom Clancey. I remember that in one of his books, he goes on for pages about the triggering of a nuclear device that in actuality occurs in only a split second of real time. I try to be accurate in my medical terminology, as it helps me to write. For example, when you write down the medical history of a patient, you have to be very precise, so that whoever reads it later on will know Mr./Mrs. Jones had this, and this, and this. In that way, if another doctor sees that patient he will know what (the patient) is experiencing. For instance, some of the intracellular discussion may bore people, but it is important to the development of the story.
I know that it is your advantage in medical training that brings such realistic lines as these to your book:
Do you try to hit people at the brain level or gut level?
Both. I try to hit every part of the body and psyche that I can. I hit the scientific mind and the religious mind, the mind that is worried, or scared out of its wits. It took six years. I have refined this book, working it over many times in my mind. It has been read and reviewed, as well as corrected by readers whom I trust implicitly. I have a day job, you see. I work twelve hours to fifteen or sixteen hours per day. It took a long time to complete, so I wanted it to be correct as well as a good read the first time because of all the time I have devoted to it personally.
You deal with many pivotal and prophetic images in your book, Doctor.
True. One is the new uprising of Middle Eastern extremists. That is a very sensitive subject, as well as the fault line along the New Madrid Fault that lies underneath this section of the south alongside the Mississippi River. One noted scientist a few years ago predicted that there would be a calamitous event concerning that fault that very year. It upset quite a few people! Then, there is the genetic hybridization of cells that is in the news, as well as the whole subject of the inherent goodness/evil of mankind in general. All are present happenings or near future forecasting of events.
Can you tell us about your next literary venture?
I am working on a story about a physician who is an Electrophysiologist. He studies the brain and has learned how to analyze brain waves in such a fashion that he can tell what a patient is thinking and feeling by use of equipment that he has devised. He uses it, for instance, in determining what condition a person is in who comes under his care in a coma.
The Gray Zone, 1st Books Library, 2001
© 2001 Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved