A Year of Reading Plague Novels
February 25, 2010 6:17 AM   Subscribe

What are some good Science Fiction novels about plagues? Alternately, what are some good non-genre novels about plagues?

I'm most interested in novels in which the plague is actually occurring during the course of the book, although if all you've got are post-apocalyptic novels in which the plague has already occurred I'll take those recommendations as well.

Plague novels I've read recently:
Journal of a Plague Year by Defoe
The Plague by Camus
The Year of Wonders by Brooks
posted by OmieWise to Media & Arts (49 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
World War Z is a good one, but of course it's a zombie plague and so might not be your thing.
posted by 1adam12 at 6:19 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

"The Stand" by Stephen King covers the plague for the first half of the novel. Also see his short story "Captain Tripps". "Earth Abides" by George R. Stewart mainly covers the aftermath.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:22 AM on February 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is superb and won the Hugo and Nebula award.
posted by hindmost at 6:25 AM on February 25, 2010 [9 favorites]

Great minds (also sometimes misfire). I've also recently read Doomsday Book, have WWZ on my library reserve list, and read the Stand several years ago.
posted by OmieWise at 6:28 AM on February 25, 2010

Brian Aldiss' Helliconia books feature a disease which essential reconditions those who survive it to be better suited to the changing seasons.
posted by permafrost at 6:30 AM on February 25, 2010

"The White Plague" by Frank Herbert of "Dune" fame is a great read. Also, I really enjoyed "Darwin's Radio" by Greg Bear.
posted by white_devil at 6:31 AM on February 25, 2010

The Pesthouse by John Crace is post-apocalypse but the plague that caused this is still in existence (hence the need for the titular pesthouses).

Oryx And Crake and The Year Of The Flood by Margaret Atwood both take place before, during and after a man-made plague has been released.

Actually, this Wikipedia entry might be helpful.
posted by ninebelow at 6:32 AM on February 25, 2010

Blindness. Such a gorgeous novel.
posted by mochapickle at 6:34 AM on February 25, 2010 [6 favorites]

I recently read The Year of Wonders, which is not science fiction, but is a fictionalized tale about a village that self-quarantined during the Black Plague. Based on the story of the village of Eyam, it was a decent read, and lead me to do a little research about Eyam, which in itself was fascinating.
posted by thebrokedown at 6:35 AM on February 25, 2010

Just about everything Alastair Reynolds has ever written involves a complicated (beautifully crafted) universe where a nanotech virus called the Melding Plague is a primary feature. Lots and lots of novels, and all of them really fantastic.
posted by Rallon at 6:36 AM on February 25, 2010

The Melding Plague is only in the Revelation Space universe and is most prominent in the first two novels.

Other suggestions:

The Purple Cloud by MP Shiel
The Alchemist's Cat by Robin Jarvis
The Eternal Footman by James Morrow

posted by ninebelow at 6:41 AM on February 25, 2010

"The Last Man" by Mary "Frankenstein" Shelley.
posted by Robot Johnny at 6:45 AM on February 25, 2010

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:48 AM on February 25, 2010

Judith Merkle Riley's A Vision of Light, a historical fantasy that I loved, shows the main character surviving the plague when everyone else in her life dies.
posted by Ery at 6:54 AM on February 25, 2010

The Years of Rice and Salt is another post-Plague one, but not in the usual way.
posted by zamboni at 7:20 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, how could I forget "The Doomsday Book". A must read. And I even went to a Connie Willis book signing last week.

Fair warning, it's not happy fun look at the Black Death.
posted by beowulf573 at 7:29 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Earth Abides
Fifth Columnwhich I think is also known as Revolt in 2100 uses a plague as the main weapon.
Heinlein also does this in Puppet Masters but it isn't really what you're after.
posted by mearls at 7:30 AM on February 25, 2010

Seconding Oryx and Crake by Atwood. It's fantastic.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:36 AM on February 25, 2010

I came here to recommend I Am Legend as well. I'm not usually one to point out how much better a book is than its movie adaptation, but in this case the original plot is just so much better it makes you seriously question every plot choice made by the filmmakers. And Matheson's writing style is so damn smooth.

I'm not sure if you're interested in graphic novels, but Y: The Last Man is fantastic and is about a plague that wipes out every male mammal on Earth except one guy and his monkey.
posted by ORthey at 7:45 AM on February 25, 2010

The Decameron - not really a story about the Plague, but a collection of 100 stories told by characters entertaining themselves while hiding out from the Plague. Written during actual Plague times, around 1350.
posted by emeiji at 7:47 AM on February 25, 2010

The Plague by Camus. The Masque of the Red Death by Poe.
posted by grobstein at 7:55 AM on February 25, 2010

Seconding White Plague. The combination of plausible scenario and detailed look inside the mind of a madman makes it one of the most frightening books I've ever read.
posted by scalefree at 7:59 AM on February 25, 2010

My problem with the recommended Doomsday Book is that I found it really hard to find a world believable when it has time travel but no damn cell phones. Especially if it was written in 1992.

Some of my favorite short stories about plagues come from Asimov's anthology Catastrophes. I read this book as a child, in Italian, and it is probably the one science fiction collections that has stayed with me way into adulthood. CATASTROPHES!!!!! is my favorite literary genre, though, so I might be biased.
posted by lydhre at 8:06 AM on February 25, 2010

Journals of the Plague Years by Norman Spinrad, AIDS parable meets Escape from New York
posted by klapaucius at 8:09 AM on February 25, 2010

a lot of Octavia Butler applies, but particularly the series that goes from Clay's Ark (near future) to Patternmaster (far future, but published first)
posted by klapaucius at 8:11 AM on February 25, 2010

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi is set in a near-future world (with the story itself taking place in Thailand) that has been shaped by plagues and diseases, both natural and laboratory-created.
posted by Forktine at 8:17 AM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

"World Without End" by Ken Follett takes place during the black plague.
posted by MorningPerson at 8:18 AM on February 25, 2010

I second Blindness. Truly a good book about...WHAT THE HELL? I CAN'T SEE!
posted by elder18 at 8:33 AM on February 25, 2010

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. Monks and aliens in 14th century Germany, and the Black Plague is a major factor in the story.
posted by cadge at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2010

"Mister Touch" by Malcolm Bosse.

Also, though not about the plague, an enjoyable postapocalyptic novel, "Malevil" by Robert Merle.
posted by Allee Katze at 8:51 AM on February 25, 2010

I've recommended this before, but Arslan by MJ Engh. A very emotional book about an end-of-the-world plague by a person who lives in one of the survivors camps. It's a short, sharp book that turns around many of the cliches of the standard plague plots.
posted by bonehead at 9:12 AM on February 25, 2010

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

also, I'd avoid Earth Abides like the plague...it hasn't aged well at all.
posted by namewithoutwords at 9:18 AM on February 25, 2010

Total Oblivion, More or Less by Alan DeNiro. Not just about a plague, but it does play a key role in the goings on.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:48 AM on February 25, 2010

What about "Earth Abides" hasn't aged well?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:22 AM on February 25, 2010

Greg Bear's Blood Music unleashes a plague (of sorts).
posted by Scoo at 11:55 AM on February 25, 2010

I haven't read it, but the Plague Year series by Jeff Carlson looks intriguing and I enjoyed the excerpt. Link goes to John Scalzi's hosted Big Idea piece.
posted by bookdragoness at 12:05 PM on February 25, 2010

Years ago I enjoyed The Psychopath Plague by Steven Sprull enough to read it several times.
posted by Oireachtac at 12:14 PM on February 25, 2010

The Stand by Stephen King
posted by greensalsa at 1:12 PM on February 25, 2010

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, while not a novel per-se, certainly kept me on the edge of my seat.
posted by ambulocetus at 2:28 PM on February 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Scott Sigler's Infected and Contagious
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 3:22 PM on February 25, 2010

Not science fiction, but excellent: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party
posted by nicwolff at 3:34 PM on February 25, 2010

I'm going to go all obscure and recommend The Sign of the Labrys, by Margaret St. Clair. I first read this probably close to 40 years ago (ack!), and I've never forgotten it. Set in a post-plague world, in which bio-engineered yeast has wiped out 90% of the population, the story follows our hero as he embarks on a quest down through a series of natural and man-made caverns in search of a cure. And according to this, was a big influence on Gary Gygax, of D&D fame.
posted by Bron at 4:06 PM on February 25, 2010

I've read In The Wake Of The Plague by Norman Cantor several times. I get something new out of it each time.
posted by looknevada at 6:02 PM on February 25, 2010

Dust, by Charles R. Pellegrino. Science fiction written by a scientist. Scary stuff.
posted by bryon at 6:15 PM on February 25, 2010

Karel ńĆapek's War with the Newts is about a plague of rapidly evolving underwater newts. Probably the greatest social and political satire I've ever read.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 10:31 PM on February 25, 2010

In the category of "experimental fiction," I recommend Samuel R. Delaney's _Flight from Neveryon_, specifically the novella "The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals, or, Some Informal Remarks Towards the Modular Calculus, Part Five," which is sometimes credited as the first AIDS novel(la), though only some of it happens in (then-)present day New York. Here's Delaney's comment.

I also quite like Spinrad's Journals of the Plague Years, though as he points out in the introduction, it's only a treatment of a novel, so quite brief. It reads almost like a novelized film script.
posted by anotherpanacea at 4:51 AM on February 26, 2010

The Cobra Event - Richard Preston

Takes place in the 90s, about germ warfare.
posted by fizzix at 1:38 PM on February 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Grass -- by Sherri Tepper, features a galaxy-wide plague. Wonderful book.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 5:15 PM on February 26, 2010

Thanks everyone! I guess there is large overlap with post-apocalyptic fiction, which is ok, but not really the flavor in the earlier plague novels I read.

I'm almost done with World War Z, which was actually already on my list of things to read, but I forgot about it, and it's GREAT!

There was a plague story linked on boing boing today.

I forgot to add one that I've also read recently, about vampires. The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. It's a pretty good, vampire as virus, story.
posted by OmieWise at 5:36 AM on March 2, 2010

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