This reading group guide for The Influenza Bomb includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Paul McCusker. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
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QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Some of the characters in the book deal with forgiving, being forgiven, or refusing to forgive. What was the outcome with each character?
2. Is it reasonable to think that the victims of the Holocaust should forgive those who tortured and murdered their families and friends?
3. What kind of offense do you (or would you) find most difficult to forgive?
4. Do you meditate on an offense over and over? Do you ever feel that you are a prisoner of unforgiveness? When? Why? Do you think this gives you bitterness and anger, or joy and peace?
5. How do you find it in yourself to let go of past offenses, even though you “deserve” to hang on to them?
6. Does forgiving someone mean that the offense is forgotten and has no further consequences?
7. What is the only phrase in the Lord’s Prayer with a “condition” attached? (Matthew 6:12)
8. Does forgiveness necessitate reconciliation? If Mark forgave his ex-wife, should he also have considered reuniting with her?
9. What do the authors mean when they say, “Don’t waste your pain”? How can you apply this principle to your life?
10. Nora thought it would be wrong to influence Mark in his decision about his ex-wife. Was she right to stay neutral or should she have been more outspoken with her opinions and feelings?
11. Because she felt stifled by Russian bureaucracy, Susan took matters into her own hands. Was she right to do that? How far should one go beyond the boundaries of the law, even if it’s for a good cause? Ever? Sometimes? Never? Defend your view.
12. The Return to Earth movement has taken the position that humans have been reckless and irresponsible in their care of nature, and so they’ve forfeited their right to dominate the world. What do you think of that view?
13. Do you believe groups such as the Return to Earth Society exist? Upon what would they base their beliefs?
14. How do you feel about animal-rights groups that seem to place more emphasis on animal rights than human rights?
15. Was Return to Earth right to take extreme and violent measures to correct where humans have gone wrong?
16. Is it legitimate to believe that humans are no greater than any other creature in nature? Is killing a human to save an animal—or nature—ever justified?
17. Do you believe it is morally or ethically right for governments to develop germ and viral weapons? And if so, under what circumstances should they be used and under what circumstances should they never be used?
18. The Bavarian government destroyed Hitler’s Berghof because some people were turning it into a shrine to honor the dictator. Were they right to do that? Is there value in keeping such a place intact as a reminder of the horrors committed under the man’s leadership?
19. Philip Knox was tenacious in his belief that German scientists had developed a means to disseminate influenza to their enemies, in spite of being called insane and a paranoid conspiracy theorist. Should Knox have given up? When does it border on obsession or insanity to pursue the truth with such determination?
20. Cornelius Knox joined forces with Stefan Maier to get evidence of a Nazi conspiracy. Maier had his own motives. When Knox learned the truth about Maier’s activities, should he have broken off from Maier? Does the end justify the means even if the means are morally questionable?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Many characters in the story talk about their own family’s connection to the Spanish Flu of 1918. Look back into your own history from that time period to see if your family was affected.
2. The TSI group is an intrepid bunch who can tackle any sort of trouble. Who is your favorite member? If you were a member of TSI, what special skills would you bring to the group?
3. If you haven’t already, read the first book in the TSI series, The Gabon Virus
. How have the characters developed since their first case?
AUTHOR Q&AWhere and how did you guys meet?
Walt: Paul and I met when we both worked at Focus on the Family. We admired each other’s work and became friends. When Paul had the idea for the first TSI
book, he contacted me about writing it with him. It’s been a lot of fun working out the plots, characters, and medical science in both books.Paul, as an author and scriptwriter, you are no stranger to high-adventure stories. Your past works show that you love speculative fiction that explores the dramatic possibilities of normal people in abnormal situations. So how did you come up with the idea for this novel?
Paul: The Time Scene Investigators series came to me while I was visiting the small village of Eyam in England. (Readers of TSI: The Gabon Virus
may remember the importance the village had in the story.) There I began to explore the idea of special team of doctors and scientists who try to solve a current medical crisis by investigating a similar crisis in the past. The medical side of the idea was daunting to me, so I turned to Walt for his help, expertise, and storytelling abilities. How much of the book is based on fact?
Walt: We’re meticulous about our medical and historical research, to make sure the medical facts are correct and our speculative ideas are, at the very least, plausible. We want everyone to remember, though, that this is a work of fiction, not a textbook, so we’ve used the information in a way that makes for a good story.
Paul: What’s frightening to me is that everything we’ve written is possible in our world. Any terrorist group that could get their hands on “influenza bombs” would do mankind terrible damage. What about the historical characters involved in the search for the “influenza bomb,” are they historical?
Paul: Some are based on actual people, and some of the conspiracy material is based on genuine theories, but we’ve fictionalized everything to create a new mythology. And is there actually a TSI team at the NIH?
Walt: Not that we know of. But you can never really be sure with the government . . . Is the Return to Earth Society fictional?
Paul: The name is, but there are real people and animal-rights groups who genuinely believe that man is no more or less special than any other creature in nature. Some of these groups are very dangerous and readily use violence to accomplish their goals. One of your main characters, Mark Carlson, endures a lot of emotional conflict in this story. Is there anything from your lives that you tapped into for that part of the story?
Walt: I believe all of us can be deeply wounded and must, at one time or another, come to a place of forgiveness for those who’ve hurt us. Mark’s challenge is one we all face. And then it’s a question of how to forgive but still maintain healthy boundaries with those who’ve hurt us.
Paul: We also wanted to explore how a lack of forgiveness can destroy a person and lead to terrible circumstances. We don’t say that forgiveness is easy—but it is necessary to live a healthy life. There are a couple of romantic relationships developing in these novels. Which one of you is the romantic?
Paul: We both like the relational aspects of the stories, but Walt is definitely the romantic. He’d have all kinds of smooching going on if I didn’t stop him.