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Novels for a pandemic

During the current crisis I prefer to read happy, escapist stories. But there is a huge rise in people wanting to read novels about plagues and pandemics. So here are three lesser-known books about humanity facing an extinction crisis – all the heading links are to the Wikipedia pages, which contain plot spoilers. Links under the images are to Goodreads.

Empty World by John Christopher

Goodreads link

I read this at school many years ago – back then it was considered a “children’s book” but would now be Young Adult. The “Calcutta Plague”, similar to the rapid-ageing disease progeria, sweeps through the world, with only a handful of mainly teenage survivors. They must figure out how to exist in a nearly empty-world as dangerous rats emerge and animals escape from zoos. It’s a story that haunts me to this day.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Goodreads link

Nuclear war releases a cloud of deadly radiation, which gradually moves across the globe killing everyone. Australia is the furthest and last country affected, so everyone waits for their doom, with the government supplying suicide pills to ease people’s deaths. A submarine crew chases a faint signal in the Northern hemisphere in the desperate hope of finding life. Very grim. There’s a film version starring Gregory Peck though it contains changes that Shute didn’t approve of.

Death of Grass by John Christopher

Goodreads link

A friend’s father recommended this to me, and it’s another one that haunts me. The “Chung-Li” virus is wiping out grass crops across the world – which includes rice and wheat – and means widespread famine. Asia is already suffering mass starvation and riots. People’s civility deserts them as they end up killing one another to get food, while they head to a valley where potatoes (a safe crop) are grown.