Novelist Robert Burns and I have a lot in common. We both put food on the table writing
about things pretty far removed from our passions. Burns writes about agriculture, and I
write about pavement. We're both good at it, but below the surface we're both enamored with
fiction and have manuscripts stashed in drawers. Burns pulled one of those out, and Swimming
Kangaroo quickly picked it up last year.
Burns' debut novel, The Unselfish Gene, is set in 2060 in the aftermath of a
devastating bird flu pandemic that wiped out most of humankind and turned millions into
mindless, but infectious, zombie-like creatures, stumbling through abandoned cities,
awaiting a real death. A remnant of uninfected people are eking out an existence in small
mining colonies or on the moon, lucky to be in space when the pandemic swept the Earth.
Astronomers at a moon colony called The Cloister have noted another a giant comet is aimed
at their home planet and will destroy everything. Cloister leaders, who realize that
insanity and bone loss may cripple the colony, draft a crew and mount a risky expedition
to salvage human DNA and pharmaceuticals in order for the colony to remain viable. The
materials on Earth have been rounded up by a tiny group of humans who have immunity to
If it weren't risky enough to try to land an unproven rocket and take off, they have to
find the unaffected humans and their salvaged materials amid a city teeming with infectious
zombies, but their mission is sabotaged in space by an explosion that kills all but nine of
the crew when one of their own goes rogue. Adding to this, the crew soon finds out that the
Earth humans have an agenda for them and their ship.
Mixed into this story are discussions about culture and religion since The Cloister's
majority faith is Buddhism. Plus, there's enough sex to keep things heated up.
Burns has written a fast-paced science fiction thriller that explores deeper questions
as all good sci-fi should do. His characters are fully developed, with no surprises, other
than those built into the plot. And, the plot is brilliant and unique.
Burns has plans to release another novel, Messengers of an Alien God, that he calls
occult science fiction through Swimming Kangaroo Books, but that has been put on hold as
Swimming Kangaroo takes a publishing hiatus. Nevertheless, Burns continues to work on a
sequel to that book, Dreamtime of an Alien God, which may turn into a third novel.