Home » Charleston history » SOME PLAGUE NOVELS to read


THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN by Michael Crichton (1969)

Big-andromedastrainThe techno-thriller that turned Crichton into a best-selling novelist. It follows the efforts of a team of scientists investigating the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial  microorganism in Arizona. 

A team recovers a military satellite which has returned to Earth, but contact is abruptly lost. Aerial surveil-lance reveals that everyone in Piedmont, Arizona, the town closest to where the satellite landed, is apparently dead. The duty officer of the base tasked with retrieving the satellite suspects that it returned with an extra-terrestrial contaminant and recommends activating “Wildfire”, a protocol for a government-sponsored team of scientists intended to contain threats of this nature.

THE DEATH OF GRASS by John Christopher (1956)

death of grassThe Chung-Li virus has devastated Asia, wiping out the rice crop and leaving riots and mass starvation in its wake. Then Chung-Li mutates and spreads. Wheat, barley, oats, rye: no grass crop is safe, and global famine threatens. In Britain, where green fields are fast turning brown, the Government lies to its citizens, devising secret plans to preserve the lives of a few at the expense of the many.

Getting wind of what’s in store, John Custance and his family decide they must abandon their London home to head for the sanctuary of his brother’s farm in a remote northern valley. So they begin the long trek across a country fast descending into barbarism, where the law of the gun prevails, and the civilized values they once took for granted become the price they must pay if they are to survive.

I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson (1954)

How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

220px-IAmLegend25028Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth…but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville’s blood. By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn. A truly terrifying novel. Matheson is one of the best writers of the 20th century and the importance of this novel cannot be overestimated.

It was influential in the development of the zombie-vampire genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. The novel was adapted into the films The Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price, The Omega Man (1971) with Charlton Heston, and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith. It was also an inspiration behind Night of the Living Dead (1968).

THE PLAGUE DOGS by Richard Adams (1977)

RichardAdams_ThePlagueDogsFrom the author of Watership Down, this novel tells the story of two dogs, Rowf and Snitter, who escape from a government research station in the Lake District in England, where they had been horribly mistreated. They live on their own with help from a red fox, or “tod”. After the starving dogs attack some sheep on the fells, they are reported as ferocious man-eating monsters by an opportunistic journalist. A great dog hunt follows, which is later intensified with the fear that the dogs could be carriers of a dangerous bioweapon, such as the bubonic plague.

In typical Adams fashion, it is an emotional, often harrowing read. But highly recommended!

THE STAND by Stephen King (1978)

Original cover

The most epic pandemic novel ever, The Stand is an amazing postapocalyptic horror/fantasy novel that expands upon the scenario of King’s earlier short story “Night Surf”. It presents a detailed vision of the total breakdown of society after the accidental release of a strain of influenza that had been modified for biological warfare causes an apocalyptic pandemic, killing off more than 99% of the world’s population. The Stand was King’s fourth novel, and remains (in its “Complete & Uncut” edition) the longest stand-alone novel King has published. One of my favorite novels of all time. King has had a long and highly successful career, but ultimately, this may be his greatest accomplishment. 

WHITEOUT by Ken Follett (2004)

whiteoutA lab technician bleeding from the eyes. Twelve missing samples of a deadly virus. Toni Gallo, the security director of a Scottish medical research firm, knows she has problems, but she has no idea of the nightmare to come.

As a Christmas Eve blizzard whips out of the north, several people, Toni among them, converge on a remote family house. All have something to gain or lose from the drug developed to fight the virus. As the storm worsens, the emotional sparks – jealousies, distrust, sexual attraction, rivalries – crackle; desperate secrets are revealed; hidden traitors and unexpected heroes emerge. 

THE WHITE PLAGUE by Frank Herbert (1982)

What if women were an endangered species?

white plagueFrom Sci-Fi Grand Master, Frank Herbert, this is a marvelous and terrifyingly plausible blend of visionary fiction. It begins in Ireland, but soon spreads throughout the entire world: a virulent new disease expressly designed to target only women.

As fully half of the human race dies off at a frightening pace and life on Earth faces extinction, panicked people and governments struggle to cope with the global crisis. Infected areas are quarantined or burned to the ground. The few surviving women are locked away in hidden reserves, while frantic doctors and scientists race to find a cure. Anarchy and violence consume the planet.

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