Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Scarlet Plague

Despite the last few decades of zombies, manmade viruses and environmental disasters on film and in print, the apocalypse in fiction isn't a modern idea as shown in Jack London's The Scarlet Plague. Published in 1912 and set in 2012, the story details a disease which more or less wipes out the entire human race. The narrator, Granser, tells the story of the plague and the world as it was to a small group of children who think him a deluded old man with made up stories of a global population in billions and aircraft travelling at 300 mph.

The horror of the story is more in the reaction from the children to Granser's story. They're almost completely unable to conceive of a world so alien to their own. That's not to say the images of our world undone in a matter of days isn't horrifying, but I found Granser's attempts to bring his past back to life and how the children are so quick to dismiss it to be much more frightening.

It's a slight story in terms of length but not scope, and while it probably doesn't qualify as a novella (maybe a novelette?), it's a good read and an interesting ancestor of 28 Days Later, The Stand and Day of the Triffids to name just a few. If you want to see how the end of the world was presented to the early 20th century, The Scarlet Plague is a fine place to start.


  1. Cool, I'll have to give this one a try. Would be interesting what 2012 looked like to an author in 1912.

  2. It's a great read. Hope you like it.