I don’t know how it happened, but there’s not a lot in this world that I’m afraid of. Not really afraid of, anyway. Clowns are rather terrifying (and also NOT FUNNY), but in spite of what movies may tell me, I don’t believe that they’re all cleaver-wielding homicidal maniacs waiting to slaughter me in my sleep and use my bones for stew (just most of them). I don’t like walking on bridges or walkways without a guardrail that comes to at least my shoulder because I have an irrational fear that I am going to topple over the side (or possibly be pushed). But I’m not afraid of spiders or snakes or fire or drowning or being buried alive or World War III or being Left Behind or the impending rise of the machines and/or apes or most of the other stuff that people are afraid of.
I am, however, absolutely terrified of disease. And I blame Stephen King. (And my mom a little bit for allowing me to read him at such a young age, though I’m more grateful that she never attempted to censor what I read.)
Now, let me be clear: I’m not afraid of being sick; I don’t like it and I become a miserable curmudgeon when I’m ill, but I don’t immediately jump to “Oh My God I’m Going To Die And Be Eaten By My Cats!” when I get a sniffle. And I think a lot of the panic when a new strain of flu or whatever crops up is a bit over-the-top and mostly unnecessary, but if it gets a vaccine or a cure out there more quickly, then panic away. (Unless the cure leads to something worse, like a sentient tapeworm or zombieism.) That being said, I’m pretty sure the end of the human race isn’t going to come from nuclear war or global warming or alien invasion or the revival of the dinosaurs but from a global pandemic that may or may not cause zombieism (and may or may not be triggered by any or all of the other potential causes of the apocalypse).
Because Captain Trips? Yeah, that s**t could totally happen. The rest of The Stand is great, page-turning fiction, but Captain Trips is terrifyingly plausible to me and can still give me nightmares. And this King masterwork is just one of the books out there that employs disease as the mechanism by which most of humanity meets its end. Mira Grant’s Feed (and the entire Newsflesh trilogy) introduces us to a disease caused by the mating and mutating of two lab-created viruses which, individually, cured colds and flu and cancer, but, together cured these things and created zombies.The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Kendall is a YA that has a disease killing off the entire adult population, leaving young kids to fend for themselves. (This seems to happen a lot in YA fiction, too. Chris Weitz’s The Young World being just one other recent example of a world populated by kids because some disease has killed off all the adults.) And these are just the tip of the Apocalypse-By-Disease iceberg. (I don’t include The Andromeda Strain here because, let’s face it, that virus was a wuss and didn’t stay deadly for long. Apparently, it was a virus with a death wish because most viruses want nothing more than to survive and thrive, but this one mutated itself right out of existence.)
And, if you’re not terrified of disease after reading those, then may I recommend Richard Preston? The Hot Zone was the first non-fiction that made me think that my fear of disease wasn’t in the least irrational and that we were all going to die. Horribly. Of some viral hemmorhagic fever. (And if you haven’t read it, now might be the time, what with ebola rearing its ugly, bleeding-from-the-eyeballs head again.) And then he came out with The Demon in the Freezer, and I realized it wasn’t going to be a VHF after all, but smallpox that would kill us. And David Qaummen’s Spillover made me realize that these things weren’t just going to kill us, but they were going to kill all the animals first and then jump over and kill us. The world is terrifying, y’all. We should be treating it like a BSL-4 zone at all times.
New diseases are cropping up all the time and gods only know what their effects will be. They may be almost universally lethal and lead to the collapse of society as we know it (and/or to zombies and/or cannibalism) or, as in John Scalzi’s forthcoming Lock In, they could just kill millions and leave millions of others with locked-in syndrome. (Read the prequel novella, “Unlocked”, here for a brief history of the disease that creates the world in which the novel takes place.) The world of this novel isn’t completely devastated and the effects of the disease have led to advancements in technology, so maybe these global pandemics don’t have to always be so completely, totally, horridly awful.
But now I’m worried that I’ll somehow end up with locked-in syndrome.
And that’s terrifying.
Billie Bloebaum is currently not contagious, but she’s staying confined to her quarters and consuming medicinal whisky, just in case.