Apocalyptic Virus Lit

By Brian Lancaster

I was ready to party last week and spread my germs around, then the second spike hit and I am stuck at home writing about post-apocalyptic virus literature set in the Bay Area. No zombies, no ridiculous Resident Evil mutants from some bioweapon that makes abosutely no sense. Just a plague that wipes out the population, and a handful of survivors with shotguns trying to protect their canned spaghetti in San Francisco. There’s a lot of these stories, and they are gold.

Jack London wrote “The Scarlet Plague” in 1912, well before the Spanish Flu. It’s rife with examples of mankind degenerating into animals guarding their toilet paper. It’s more exciting than any action movie or computer game I’ve experienced. No spoilers for this one. I’m gonna go pour out some beer on this guy’s statue downtown as a sacrifice soon. It’s what he would want.

“The Scarlet Plague”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=84olTluGXTE

Then comes H.P. Lovecraft. I spent years thinking I’d read everything by this magnificent dead-eyed weirdo. But it turns out he ghost wrote a whole plethora of other stuff, much of which was too damn abnormal for his employers to publish. The Mound is my favorite of these examples. A woman just wanted him to write a simple story of a ghost wandering around an Indian burial mound at night, and I like to imagine that when she got Lovecraft’s results, she said out loud, “What the f**k is this?” It never got published in his lifetime.

“The Mound”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA24Gmlnq5I).

Lovecraft also ghost wrote a short story called “The Last Test” in 1928 (a revision of something written back in the 1890s that I never got around to called “A Sacrifice to Science”). It’s about a virus wiping out the SF Bay Area. The story focuses on San Quentin State Prison, which serves as the epicenter in the story.

The Last Test: https://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/lt.aspx

My favorite story on an apocalyptic Bay Area virus, though, is a novel called Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (1949). It tells of a man bitten by a rattlesnake while camping in the Berkeley hills. He rides it out in a cabin, then stumbles back into town to find that most of the population has died off from a plague, and that that snake venom may have been the only thing to have spared him. As the years go by, tribal societies form and war with each other. Read this book if nothing else (except you have to buy it). I’m just going to give one spoiler on this masterpiece: the new generations start using pennies to craft arrowheads. Never underestimate the value of a penny, even in the post-apocalypse.

When that infected cruise ship unbarked at Jack London Square in March, I cancelled my bar plans for the evening, and I’ve been at home listening to audiobooks on Youtube nonstop ever since. My final question I pose to you readers is this: when is somebody going to write a zombie cruise ship movie?

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