This week on "Welcome to the Apocalypse" we are dealing with one of my favorite Post Apocalyptic subcategories, Plagues and Pandemics. This is in honor of the release for the first time of Stephen King’s The Stand in Unabridged Audiobook Format.
"That stuff is lying around, just waiting to be picked up." The Stand
Apocalyptic Plagues are one of the most feared and most realistic potential apocalypses. Not just potential, The Black Death is estimated to have killed 45 – 50% of the European population in the 14th Century. One of the things that set Plague tales apart is that it kills off humanity, but unlike nuclear war and ecological disasters, it leaves the planet pretty well untouched. Once the plague has run its course, the survivors are left to pick up the pieces. There is no nuclear winter, or Zombie’s chasing you. The greatest threat you will face is yourself, and your fellow survivors.
The following is a list of my favorite Post Apocalyptic Plague novels. It was a hard list to make, and I was adding, cutting and revising up until I posted this list. I attempted to pick not just my favorite novels dealing with Plagues and Pandemics, but good examples of the genre. There are some that I cut, because they were far future, well past the time where the plague was an issue, or that had plagues as an issue but wasn’t the focus of the novel. All in all, I am happy with this list.
The Stand by Stephen King
The Stand is my favorite all time novel, and really the catalyst for my love of Apocalyptic fiction. I have read it in full six times, and have a well worn paperback version of it next to my bed where I will occasionally reread some of my favorite parts. It is the story of Captain Trips, a military made Superflu that wipes out 99.4% of the population. King’s tale is full off memorable characters, and contains a classic good vs. evil plot.
Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
Earth Abides tells the story of Isherwood Williams, one of the last survivors of a plague that devastates humanity. Much of the novel is focused on nature taking back the earth, with plants tearing apart roads and domesticated animals going wild. In some ways, it’s the story of civilization in reverse, starting with modern man, and allowing us to witness its gradual degradation.
Mister Touch by Malcolm Bosse
Not a well known example of the genre, Mister Touch is definitely one of my favorites. Aids has mutated, devastating the population and leaving the survivors with multiple physical ailments, including blindness and respiratory problems. A group from New York City called The Skulls, led by a former Wall Street swindler travels across an Apocalyptic America looking for a climate more suitable to their needs. It’s full of dark humor and an almost poetic use of pop dialogue.
Dark Advent by Brian Hodge
Brian Hodge’s Dark Advent has a similar theme to The Stand, a weaponized plague, good survivors and bad survivors, and an evil antagonist. Yet, it is definitely a darker, tighter novel than The Stand. Hodges created a nightmarish landscape and one really bad dude determined to bring about the end of the world.
The Pesthouse by Jim Crace
Unlike most in this list, The Pesthouse is a far future Apocalypse, taking place an unknown amount of time after a devastating plague. America is now in a new Dark Age. While the Plague was years ago, it is still a factor in the lives of the populace, and any sign of sickness will get a person sent to isolation in a pesthouse. It is a fascinating tale of survival and a road trip through a dark version of a future America.
Emergence by David R. Palmer
Candy is a young girl, yet she is seemingly stronger, smarter and faster than the typical human. After a biological weapon kills off over 99% of the earths population, Candy escapes from the bunker her father has constructed and sets out in search of other survivors. Emergence is stylistically unique, written in a short hand style similar to telegraph type.
Survivors by Terry Nation
This is the novelization of the hit 1970’s British television series. Survivors follows a group of plague survivors as the figure out trying to relearn the old was of doing things. It is also the tale of a mother searching for her lost son in an Apocalyptic landscape. Survivors is one of the most detailed and realistic apocalyptic plague novels.
Year Zero by Jeff Long
While full of a lot of religious and scientific subplots, the essence of Year Zero is a plague tale, and a pretty good one at that. It contains one of the most harrowing apocalyptic journeys, across Asia, as the main character tries to return to the United States amidst a global pandemic to find his daughter. There are some strange turns along the way, but overall this is a darn good read.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake alternated between the present story of Snowman, and Apocalyptic Hermit who must deal with a group of genetically changed humans, and the dystopian past that led to the eventual disaster. It’s often weird,but fascinating. It’s a dark but often humorous look at science and greed run amok.
‘48 by James Herbert
‘48 is a post apocalyptic alternate history where Hitler releases a devastating bioweapon as a final act of hate. It is a non-stop race through a decimated London as an immune American pilot tries to escape from a neo-nazi clan who believes there survival depends on a transfusion of his blood.
That was the list at The Guilded Earlobe. My suggestion was for Dark Advent. This was my smallish review:
The book I’d like for you to use on your list is Dark Advent by Brian Hodges. The cause of the end is a weaponized version of the bubonic plague. Unlike some books its release into the population is not an accident. It is done for the sole purpose of wiping out most of humanity.
This book is most often found in the horror section and I’d bet that most people would pass on it based on the cover alone. Even the author doesn’t know what happened with it. Trust me it’s the cover that makes it a worthwhile item to track down.
As is the case with all plague novels there are survivors. Also some of them are more good and some are not so good. The guy who releases the plague is of course very bad. Also immune. As the book gets rolling, the good clump together and the bad clump together. Most books will focus on the good group. Not Dark Advent. It evil and has a tight focus on the actions of Peter Soloman, plague releaser.
If you wondered what Flagg may have been up to in Vegas while Abigail was doing her thing in Boulder, this book might give a window to it. It’s sort of a Flagcentric version of The Stand.
Now had I known that he was going to include Dark Advent in his top ten list, I'd have gone with something else. Perhaps something less known. I am fairly well read in this topic after all right?
Anyhow I give you my top 6 Plague and Pandemic Novels not featured in the list by The Guilded Earlobe.
The Dying by Leslie Alan Horvitz
In this book some trappers in Alaska find a bunch of bodies frozen in the ice. They figure the bodies have been there since 1918 or so. When a corpse defrosts it spews blood into one of their faces. The Spanish Flu of 1918 is then unleashed on a world that is unprepared for it. Pandemonium ensues.
Summer of the Apocalypse by James Van Pelt
This is a tale told in two voices. One is a younger voice that is all about survival for himself. People are dying all around him. There's panic. He hides with his family in the hills as the world tears itself apart. The other side is him as very old man who has lived and has learned a great deal. In this part he is one of the few people who remember the world as it was. The youngsters dismiss most of his stories as the ramblings of an old man.
Plague 99 by Jean Ure
This is the story of Harry (short for Harriette) and her pal Fran. Harry is an outgoing girl and Fran is more withdrawn. However Fran will go along with most of what Harry wants to do even if it frightens her a bit. At the beginning of the story Harry has convinced Fran to go on a 'primitive' camping trip. For several months they will be without radio or any form of communication. Just before it's time to leave Harry breaks her leg and can't go with. Fran wrestles with the idea of staying behind but Harry eventually goads her into joining the trip anyhow.
While they are all in the countryside a pandemic sweeps the globe and the campers arrive back to an empty city filled with corpses. What outgoing Harry has witnessed has broken her brain.
The Fire-Us trilogy by Jennifer Armstrong and Nancy Butcher
This the story (in three books) of a group of seven children. They are alone, on their own, no adults. They don't remember much from 'The Before Time'. Not even their names. They take care of each other in a way they think is like the parents did. They scavenge, they get by.
One day a young traveler shows up at their door. He wants to take them to see 'The President' and to discover once and for all what happened all those years ago to change their world so drastically.
Blakely's Ark by Ian MacMillan
When a young man's father dies he gives his son his most precious possession, a ticket to the walled plague free city. All he has to do is survive the trip through the tribal neo-primatives in his way. But when he reaches the land of milk and honey will it be everything that he was lead to believe it would be?
Plague by Graham Masterton
This book features a bacillus mutated by toxic wastes. The first outbreak is in Florida but then quickly jumps the quarantine line. The doctors attempt to stay one step ahead of it but the quickly run out of time. As the plague begins to burn out a cure is still being sought. This one is for the treehuggers out there. Sometimes what we do to our environment really does come back to get us.