Epidemics in Story

Still sick. I’ve done no writing nor anything other than sleep, cough, and take broth soup and Advil. I got my flu shot, as I do every October, which I think should guarantee me a much less severe case of the flu. But of course there are no guarantees.

It looks like this flu went through the Superstars like a scythe this year. Hopefully next year will not be a plague year in Colorado.

One of my favorite books as a child was a time travel story in which the protagonist travels back in time to the 1918 flu epidemic and gets caught there. It left an impression. I never miss my flu vaccination. Later I read a number of excellent non-fiction books about the flu epidemic, including Gina Kolata’s Flu.

There is a deadly slow-motion quality to stories about epidemics. The epidemic grinds through the available bodies until only a few are left. But within that there is a desperation and intensity for the characters as well as a moral dilemma. Stay behind and help the sick? Or flee to save your own life? The time ticks by and the characters do not know who is already doomed, though walking around just fine at that moment. It makes for powerful fiction.

Another of my favorite books (though not one I will ever re-read) is Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book about a time traveller who gets stuck within the black death. It is worth reading, but it haunted me for years afterwards.

Finally, another favorite time travel into plague book is Serensissima by Erica Jong, though the action of the fever itself means that we are never sure whether there is time travel or not. But it is a lush, beautiful book filled with the kind of descriptive prose I wish I could write.

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning John Babb’s splendid novel on the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Voices of the Dead.

Someday I will write about epidemics, which is a topic that fascinates me, but it is not a happy topic. Now back to dealing with my personal virus and thinking about happier topics to write about.

I hope the only illness you encounter is in fiction. Be well, friends!

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