“Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao is a disturbing story, but maybe not for the reasons the author thinks. We start with a deeply unpleasant main character, Zhang Zedong, a company man sent from China to Zambia who needs to improve his production numbers and who is prone to thinking things like “Africa would be a glorious place were it not for the Africans." “What he needed was more Han people,” he thinks, and the solution he comes up with is to wipe out the native population of Africa using genetic warfare.
Dr. Philip Thompson, a scientist at the Center for Disease Control, gets some information about a disease in Zambia that is killing only Africans, leaving the Chinese people in the area unaffected. But as he’s thinking about reporting these statistics, and his uncomfortable conclusions about them, he gets a visit from a Chinese man who threatens him with his death and the deaths of his friends if he shares his suspicions with anyone.
And then the full epidemic is triggered, and all the Africans die.
One of the weirdest things about this story, of course, is that it’s nothing like what Puppies say they want, narratives fraught with conflict, excitement, tension, and with good triumphing over evil at the end. There’s no tension whatsoever, just a straightforward account of what would be the worst genocide in human history. Good doesn’t triumph over evil here — it doesn’t even get out of the gate.
And there are no likable characters, another thing Puppies say they want. The closest is poor Dr. Thompson, who folds completely when he’s threatened.
Then there’s the unapologetic racism. Not Zhang Zedong’s racism, which is understandable for the kind of character he is, a colonizer who doesn’t understand why the colonized are refusing to get with the program. I mean the story’s racism, where the murder of nearly an entire race happens without even a passing remark. (People do think about genocide in the abstract; it’s the kind of genocide, specifically of Africans, and the horrible historic implications, that are passed over as though they don’t matter.) “Seven Kill Tiger” is presented as a thought experiment, an attempt to show that, as editor Jerry Pournelle says in his introduction, “once something is possible, it is only a matter of time before it becomes real.” But surely the genocide of over a billion people overshadows any detached, logical thinking on the subject. I know I didn’t come away from “Seven Kill Tiger” thinking, “Wow, genetic warfare, pretty scary.” Instead the story functions as a kind of genetic weapon itself: anyone with the least bit of empathy will be left feeling sick to their stomach.