Ahead of its release on 7 July 2020, we’re excited to be able to reveal the UK cover of author Paul Tremblay’s latest sci-fi novel Survivor Song, published by Titan Books.
We also have an exclusive excerpt from the book, which you can read at the bottom of the page.
When it happens, it happens quickly.
New England is locked down, a strict curfew the only way to stem the wildfire spread of a rabies-like virus. The hospitals cannot cope with the infected, as the pathogen’s ferociously quick incubation period overwhelms the state. The veneer of civilisation is breaking down as people live in fear of everyone around them. Staying inside is the only way to keep safe.
But paediatrician Ramola Rams can’t stay safe, when her friend Natalie calls – her husband is dead, she’s eight months pregnant, and she’s been bitten. She is thrust into a desperate race to bring Natalie and her unborn child to a hospital, to try and save both their lives.
Their once familiar home has becoming a violent and strange place, twisted in to a barely recognisable landscape. What should have been a simple, joyous journey becomes a brutal trial.
About the author
Paul Tremblay has won the Bram Stoker and British Fantasy awards and is the author of the novels Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, A Head Full of Ghosts, and The Cabin at the End of the World, and the short story collection Growing Things and Other Stories. He is currently a member of the board of directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards, and his essays and short fiction have appeared in Entertainment Weekly.com, and numerous year’s-best anthologies. He lives outside Boston with his family. He tweets @PaulGTremblay.
Read an exclusive extract from Survivor Song here:
An incoming call kicks Ramola out from the group text screen. Her phone fills with an image of herself alongside her dear friend Natalie. The photo is from Natalie’s bachelorette party, which was six years ago. They are leaning on a wooden railing at a sun-splashed outdoor bar, their drinks raised and mouths wide with laughter. They are wearing white T-shirts with a cartoon caricature of Natalie’s face above the ridiculous slogan “Nats Is Plightin’ All the Troths.” Ramola was volunteered by the group to explain what the shirt meant to inquisitive passersby, not solely because she is British, but because she is a doctor, which was part of her increasingly elaborate, drunken explanations.
At the sight of Natalie’s face on her phone, there’s a brief spark of guilt. Aside from a few stray texts, Ramola hasn’t talked to Natalie since the baby shower two months ago. Ramola, ever practical, chose from a rather elaborate registry to gift a month’s supply of baby diapers and wipes. Post-party, on her way out the door, she also gave Natalie a stuffed Paddington Bear along with a stack of books, joking the extra present was necessary for her to remain on brand.
“Oh thank Christ, Rams.” The nickname is a holdover from their college days, and Natalie is the only person who continues using it. “I kept calling 911 and it wasn’t going through. I—” She pauses and cries quietly. “Are you home? I need your help. I don’t know what to do.”
“Yes, of course. I’m here, Natalie. Where are you? Are you all right? What happened?” Ramola has the disorienting sensation of being outside herself, observing this moment from a temporal distance that has yet to be achieved or earned, and it’s as though she expected this call and what is sure to be the delivery of devastating news.
“I’m in the car. Halfway there. I’ll be at your place in five minutes .”
Ramola runs to the bay window, throws open the curtains, exposing the view of the front lot. “Why aren’t you at home? Are you having contractions?”
“I had to leave. Something terrible happened. I really need help.” Her normally assured, insistent voice loses its force the longer she speaks so by the end of her third sentence she sounds like a timid child.
“I’m going to help. I promise.”
Natalie whispers, “Ow, fuck,” in a high-pitched voice, one that breaks into hitching sobs.
“What is it? Are you all right, Natalie? Do you need me to come to you?”
“My arm really fucking hurts.” Natalie grunts as though attempting to reset herself. “We were attacked by some guy. He was infected. Paul was bringing groceries inside and we were in the living room talking, just talking, and I don’t remember about what . . .” She trails off.
“Natalie, you still there?”
“Some guy walked in. He opened the screen door and walked right in our fucking house, and Paul tried to close the door on him, but he fell, and . . . And—and I tried to help Paul, and Paul—” She splinters into shards of tears again, but briefly recovers with a deep, wavering inhale. “The guy killed Paul and he bit my arm.”
Ramola gasps, covers her mouth, and staggers away from the window as though she might see the scene described play out in the lot. What can she say? What can she possibly say to Natalie?
After the initial shock of the news dissipates, the clinical doctor in her brain takes over, wanting to know more about Paul, to ask if Natalie’s sure he’s dead. She wants to ask about the bite on her arm—did it break the skin?—and ask about the infected man, what he looked like, what symptoms he was displaying.
“Oh my God, Natalie. I don’t know what to say—I’m so sorry. Please do your best to focus on driving until you get here. We need you in one piece.”
“There’s a chunk missing from my arm already.”
Ramola cannot tell if Natalie is laughing or crying. “Yes, well, we’ll get your arm cleaned up and we’ll get you vaccinated.” Ramola is aware she’s using the royal “we” she often employs with her patients.
“Rams, Paul is gone. He’s gone. He’s fucking dead. What am I going to do?”
“We’re going to get you to a hospital. Straightaway.” Ramola runs into the kitchen. From under her sink she pulls out a box of Nitrile gloves. They’re from her clinic but she uses them at home for cleaning. Holding her phone against her ear with a shoulder, she puts on a pair of gloves and asks, “Are you close?”
“I just passed under the viaduct.”
The granite-and-limestone Canton Viaduct is a two-hundred-year-old leviathan stretching seventy feet above Neponset Street. Ramola lives only a few blocks away.
Ramola says, “Are you feeling light-headed? Do you need to pull over? I can come to you.” She plucks her handbag from the kitchen table, double checks that her car keys are inside. Whether or not they swap vehicles there’s no way she’s letting Natalie drive anywhere once she gets here. Ramola pins her medical ID badge to the front of her sweatshirt. She’s wearing plaid flannel pajama bottoms, her “comfy trousers,” but she won’t waste time changing out of them.
“I’m not stopping. I can’t. I’m running out of time to get help, right? Aren’t they saying the virus works fast?”
“You’ll be here soon and we’ll get you help. I’ll stay on the phone with you. Or would you prefer to drive with two hands? Feel free put me on speakerphone or drop me if you need to, if it feels safer. I’m watching out my front window. I can wait on the roadside as well.”
“No!” Natalie shouts and sounds to be on the verge of hysteria. “Do not go outside until I get there.”
Ramola dashes to the linen closet and grabs two towels and slings them over her shoulder. Then it’s back to the kitchen for a bottle of water and the half-full hand-soap bottle next to the sink before returning to the front door. She slips her bare feet into her jogging sneakers.
“Rams, what’s all that noise? You’re not going outside are you?”
“No. I’m gathering things, waiting by the door, stepping into my trainers.”
“You don’t still call them ‘trainers.’” Natalie’s voice goes little again, and it breaks Ramola’s heart.
“I do because that’s what they are.” Ramola unzips the overnight bag, places the water and soap inside and resumes her window watch. “I won’t go outside until I see you. That is a promise.” Ramola opens her phone’s text screen and scans through the group chat with Jacquie and Bobby, and pauses on the message about a patient already being feverish within an hour. The presentation of symptoms with this new virus is astronomically fast compared to a normal rabies virus. A typical rabies patient, when untreated, won’t exhibit symptoms for weeks, sometimes even months. Beginning its journey at the bite or exposure site the virus slowly travels to the brain via the sheathings of the nervous system, progressing a rate of one or two centimeters per day. Once symptoms present (fever, nausea, dizziness, anxiety, hydrophobia, delirium, hallucinations, extreme agitation), it means the virus has passed through the patient’s brain barrier, which is the medical point of no return. If rabies enters the brain, there is no known cure, and the virus is nearly 100 percent fatal.
Lisa told me one patient of hers is one hour post exposure, fever and aches already.
One bloody hour. Natalie is indeed running out of time.
Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay is out 7 July 2020 from Titan Books. Get all the latest sci-fi news with every issue of SciFiNow.