Lately Netflix and Amazon have been herding me toward their vast selection of pandemic novels and movies. At the same time, I’m getting a surprising amount of email from fans who are on their second or third reading of Lethal Agent, my novel about ISIS developing a coronavirus bioweapon.
It seems that even while being saturated with COVID-19 news coverage, people are drawn to fictionalized versions of similar crises. What is it about pandemic fantasy that, for many, perfectly complements pandemic reality?
Could I Survive?
The first virus novel I ever read is The Stand by Stephen King, and it’s still my favorite. The image of navigating a tunnel filled with corpses, now forty years old in my mind, still haunts me. I remember flipping the pages at warp speed, wondering how resilient and resourceful my middle-school self would be in a post-apocalyptic world. But more than that, I wondered what kind of person I would be if my life hung in the balance.
These days, I have more than a few friends who are becoming fixated on pandemic fiction. They want to get an idea of what might be coming and how the people around them will react. One has even started watching The Walking Dead because she thinks it’ll provide useful worst-case survival advice.
I’m not sure we should look for tips from a group of people who are getting eaten by zombies with a top speed of three-miles-per-hour, but I do believe there’s some benefit to this burgeoning obsession. For some, the fact that it can be easily turned off might provide a sense of control. For others, it could be comforting to see situations that make ours look mild by comparison.
The Science Is Compelling
One friend who’s fascinated with fictional pandemics said she’s learning the science behind how illnesses spread through books and film. While writing Lethal Agent, I spent months poring over scientific literature about the black death and Spanish flu. I wanted to nail the science behind my fictitious disease and came away both fascinated and terrified. After a year immersed in that world, it was hard not to let paranoia take hold. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, I noticed myself standing a little farther from people in grocery lines and going through quite a bit more hand soap than I had in the past.
Books Offer Escape
Just because you’re sheltering at home doesn’t mean you can’t go on an incredible journey. Maybe Stephen King’s barren hellscape isn’t your cup of tea right now. If not, how about a trip through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory with the kids? Or a kayak expedition down the Amazon river? Or a front-row seat to the building of a medieval cathedral? It’s all out there waiting for you.
We know that businesses—particularly small ones—are struggling right now. If you love to read, now’s the time to reach out to your preferred booksellers. Support your favorite authors and remember the ones who have new releases coming out during all this chaos. If you’re craving human interaction, log into virtual author tours, listen to book-focused podcasts, and join online reading groups. But most of all, let’s help each other during this unsettling time.
Remember, we’re all in this together.