Whether you feel it already or not, there’s no debate on the fact that we are currently in the midst of a global epidemic. So if you too are required to remain in isolation for the next few weeks, at least you can use that time to read a good book or two, and while we’re at it, why not read books about epidemics that will get you in the right mood? Yes, the apocalypse isn’t yet here, but preparing ourselves for the worst might not hurt. To help you to do that, here are some great epidemic books that will get you ready for the day after and maybe remind you that it can always get much, much worse.
Got any other books that you think we’ve missed? You are more than welcome to add them in the comments.
Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
We are starting this list with the real deal, and there’s nothing more real than the black plague that is estimated to have annihilated between a quarter to half of Europe’s population in the mid-14th century. This is the story of a history student at our century’s Oxford University who travels back in time to the 14th century for field research. Naturally, everything that can go wrong does precisely this, because of that Murphy guy, but also because otherwise, the book would be boring. Kind of like a Doctor Who episode with no aliens that are trying to wipe out humanity. Luckily, Connie Willis thinks the same as we do, and this book is anything but boring. I would have said that it is one of Connie Willis’ best books, but I cannot remember ever reading one of her books that did not answer that description. If you are a fan of time travel stories and are not afraid of slightly tense moments here and there, this book is definitely for you.
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
One day someone coughs. And that’s it. From this moment to the extinction of ninety-nine percent of humanity, the road is very short. Yes, it is true, most of the books in this list start the same or are at least influenced by events that begin with the same fateful cough. Still, in the case of this wonderful book, the real story is the interhuman connections that compile the delicate post-apocalypse fabric. The way this story is written and the sentimental way it brings a wide variety of voices, some of which disappeared with the plague, manages to find optimism in the most unexpected place – the end of the world as we know it.
The Stand – Stephen King
If I had to pick Stephen King’s scariest book, it wouldn’t be “The Stand,” but as far as I’m concerned, it certainly holds the respectable (and dubious) second place. As in the previous book in this list, it all begins with a cough. Only this time, that fateful cough comes from a top-secret U.S. Army lab that messes with things that should have been better left alone, and then maybe humanity’s fate was less unfortunate. But that’s not the case, at least not in this stressful masterpiece by Stephen King, which begins with a disease that eliminates most of humanity and continues with a war between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.
The Girl with All the Gifts – M.R. Kerry
Forget about a simple virus that destroys humanity. If there’s already a deadly plague, let it at least lead to a real zombie apocalypse, from the blood-freezing and nerve-wracking kind that was the previous decade’s horror movie makers’ favorite. Here you get Mike Kerry’s nerve-wringing version, who manages to elude all possible clichés and crush the readers’ hearts as he tries, among other things, to figure out who the real monster is.
The Fireman – Joe Hill
In a world where a deadly plague nicknamed dragon scales due to the pattern it creates on the sick’s skin, and that peaks with their spontaneous combustion, the majority of the world burst into flames. But this disease is not the scariest thing in this book. The real scary this is the human factor, which (much like in the real world) fails to avoid violence driven partly by fear but primarily by pure hatred.
Lock In – John Scalzi
In the not too distant future, a new and highly contagious virus attacks humanity. Most people who contract the disease do not suffer from symptoms worse than mild flu, but 1% of the population remains “locked” – closed in their bodies while fully awake and fully aware of their surroundings, but without any ability to activate their muscles. This book is set about twenty-five years after the emergence of the disease, in a world adapted to it by technology that we can only imagine. But all that jazz is only the background for this book, which uses it to take the readers into a detective mystery in which two FBI agents are trying to solve the murder of an “Integrator” – a man capable of letting those locked-up people borrow his body for a while. Scalzi uses this storyline to expose his readers to the new world built by the disease, and he does so, as he does in all his books, in a light, amused tone that doesn’t detract from the book’s quality.