Douglas James Troxell
5 Great "Oh, No! A Virus Killed Everyone!" Books
One of my favorite genre of books is the "Oh, no! A Virus Killed Everyone!" books. What's so great about "Oh, no! A Virus Killed Everyone!" books is that the antagonist can't be defeated by a gun or a sword or a tank or a bomb. There are no castles to storm or monsters to slay. These books create a sense of helplessness that no other genre can create because they play off our natural instinct as humans to gather together and breath into each other's mouths.
Unfortunately, the real-life COVID-19 pandemic put all "Oh, no! A Virus Killed Everyone!" books to shame by showing us the true horrors of fighting over the last roll of toilet paper with an elderly woman in Walmart whose mask is under her chin instead of actually on her face.
Didn't see that one coming, did you, Stephen King?!
Anyway, here are five of the best "Oh, no! A Virus Killed Everyone!" Books:
#5: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
I love me some Chuck Wendig (his terribleminds.com website is particularly great), and he throws EVERYTHING into this pandemic novel. There are nanobots and an evil A.I. computer and wandering zombie hordes (who are not zombies), and crazy redneck revolutionaries (a little too realistic for my taste). The virus at the center of all the fun is called White Mask, a bat-based virus that leaves its victims with a fungal infection that leaks out of their mouths and nose. Super creepy and gross and VERY Chuck Wendig!
#4: Severance by Ling Ma
This is probably the most unique entry on this list because it's less about the virus that kills 99% of the population and more of a commentary on the monotony of the corporate working world. When Shen Fever breaks out, a Bible layout coordinator gets suckered into watching the abandoned office day ... after day ... after day. The most unique feature of Shen Fever is that its victims continue to carry out their boring daily routines in an endless cycle. If that isn't a perfect metaphor for modern life, I don't know what is.
#3: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
The great Margaret Atwood gets a lot of credit for creating the "literary" pandemic novel. In her version, a crazed geneticist uses an evil pharmaceutical company to purposely spread a virus in an attempt to replace human beings with a race of friendly frog-humans that get giant blue boners when they're excited. See? Literary! The best part is that the pandemic is known as the "waterless flood" which is pretty clever. There are two other books in the series that include things like meat baristas and crazy garden cults and sex trapeze artists. Again, very literary.
#2: Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
If any of the visions of the apocalypse do come to pass, I hope it's the one from this book. Earth Abides is one of the earliest "Oh, no! A Virus Killed Everyone!" books. Unlike the books that would come after and present end-of-the-world scenarios with Mad Max insanity, the end of the world in this book is totally chill. A plague wipes out most of humanity. One dude is left to wander around America trying to make sense of it all. In the end, he finds a woman, gets married, forms a small tribe of survivors, and they have kids and try to do their best to carry on in the face of mankind’s demise by eating canned goods and learning to whittle. That's pretty much all that happens. Not every apocalypse has to be full of sound and fury.
#1: The Stand by Stephen King
Stephen King's epic "Oh, no! A Virus Killed Everyone!" novel is still the gold standard in the genre. It's the novel that introduced me to the genre and it still holds a place in my personal top ten. It has the coolest name for a virus in the genre (Captain Trips!) and no novel goes into more detail on the pandemic from its inception to total outbreak. In the end, it turns into a morality play with the "good" survivors gathering in Boulder, Colorado while the "bad" survivors gather in Las Vegas. In true Stephen King fashion, there are 4,000 main characters and most of them die by the end.
There you have it! It's the end of the world ... and I feel fine (cough, cough). Then again, maybe not ...
If you want to read my take on the "Oh, no! A Virus Killed Everyone!" genre, check out my novel After the End. It's The Stand meets Lord of the Flies ... oh, and a virus kills everyone.