The Strain

Jonathan Albert Maltz, University of Texas at El Paso


My project, The Strain, began as a screenplay, but has now evolved into a novella/novel potentiality. The Strain, positioned in the genre or tradition of speculative fiction, concerns the tumultuous goings-on of Ben Gottman, an underground journalist who reports on the war front infecting the planet. He returns to the city of Terra, feeling darkly removed and dissociated from domestic life as result of having witnessed the violent totality of war. No sooner has he returned then he is summoned by his supervisor, Victor Proto, who, facing the pressures of a dissolving press, as the inhabitants of Terra are rapidly disengaging from journalistic information, they being more inclined towards assimilating viral entertainment forms, informs Ben that a fellow journalist on the front, Andrew Gardner, has disappeared. Victor entrusts Ben to seek out any information regarding the disappearance of Andrew, which ultimately requires Ben to return to the front. With his marriage to Carol faltering before the toxic cusp of disintegration, haunted by a voice of which he is the only auditor, morbidly cognizant of the highly technologized city of Terra, the last nation state to remain untouched by the war, Ben sets out on perilous navigation of an industrial wasteland in search of Andrew Gardner, meeting along the way various characters while being shadowed by Terra’s corrupt Central Government. What begins as a journey marked by fatalism and a feeling of imminent failure, becomes a world of realization in which reality bends and sways to the interplay of narratives and the ideas composing them. My project, heavily based in a dystopic matrix, will explore such themes as technology’s capacity to subvert critical thought, the antagonistic, forcible power of war to function antithetically against reason and pacificity, the capacity for revelation to ignite as a result of direct engagement with discordant reality states, and the integration of higher states of consciousness which are informed by the certain existence of numinous entities that oversee, at times govern, the happenings of earthly existence. I will classify the novella as an exploration into postmodern concepts such as widespread simulation, and the proliferation of simulacra with their propensity to enforce a kind of wall to veracious existential conditions, thereby obscuring what can be deemed real and trustworthy through the medium of human perception. Again, what is central to my project is the journey trope or allegory, how one man can traverse the devastation wrought by war, accompanied by variegated folk who behave as guides to better understand the world and its multivalent characteristics. What I have hitherto composed revolves around the incipient stages of the narrative that capture the alienation experienced by Ben Gottman, having returned from the war front, having witnessed terrible acts of violence that have imprinted themselves upon his tireless organ of recollection, enough for him to feel a deep removal from interaction with his insouciant wife, whose state of oblivion and equipoise work in contrast to the toxicity inhabiting Ben Gottman’s interiority. Again, my project’s narrative centers around a temporal state of incessant global conflict. Armies, vast in numbers, tread ground soaked through with blood. All diplomatic efforts to contain the evolution and dissemination of war through the nation-states of the world have proven obsolete. Only one city, known as Terra, remains untouched, a force field having been erected around its space. However, such an impediment is weakening, much to the unawareness of the city’s inhabitants who, so removed from the war, abide by certain technological provisions that render them inattentive, such that trenchancy of thought is increasingly unattainable. Yet there remains a small solidarity of individuals dedicated to discerning the truth of reality in such a perpetually venomous epoch; they are journalists, keepers of the word, assigned to warzones with every intention of recording what is witnessed, however diffused through with peril and trauma and the far-reaching capacity of war to alter consciousness.

Subject Area

Creative writing

Recommended Citation

Maltz, Jonathan Albert, "The Strain" (2022). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI29211454.