The world is going through a wee bit of a crisis at the moment. The coronavirus is still spreading over the earth, and although some countries have gotten a handle on it to the point where businesses are reopening and things returning to normal, others — like the United States — are still very much in lockdown mode, with people encouraged to stay home and many losing jobs or hours.
It’s rough, and it looks like it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Or at least that’s the idea you get if you talk to people who have studied pandemics and plagues. And no, I’m not talking about scientific experts, although we should definitely listen to them. I’m talking about people like Max Brooks, the author of World War Z, about a disease that sweeps the world and turns people into zombies.
“What’s happening today is not so much a matter of prediction, as just history repeating itself,” Brooks told SyFy Wire. “I did not set out to predict anything when I wrote World War Z. I was just drawing on history. My research of past plagues dictated how my fictional zombie virus would spread. Unfortunately, as a student of history, I’ve learned that it does tend to repeat, so here we are again.”
Brooks, by the way, has given scholarly talks on World War Z to strategic branches of the military, so at least someone thinks his opinion is worth taking seriously. He based World War Z on plagues like SARS and AIDS, both crises that were very alarming but which never reached the pandemic stage. At the same time, there are some similarities. “I got to see misinformation firsthand, I got to see public hysteria firsthand, I got to see denial, and I got to see false cures. Around the world, people were selling false cures for AIDS. And now, they’re selling false cures for coronavirus.”
I’m saddened that there are so many parallels because it doesn’t have to be this way…A pandemic is as bad as we let it be. And so, when I see this virus spreading out of control and I see the panic that comes with it, I am so disheartened by the fact that it is all preventable from the bottom up and from the top down.
The fact that we are attacking this on a state-by-state level. And we seem to be always one step behind the curve. We were not blindsided by this. We could’ve been ready decades ago. We could’ve been ready months ago when Wuhan went into lockdown. That was the alarm. We could’ve invoked the Defense Production Act then, we could’ve gotten the systems of government and private industry ready. If we had done that, we could’ve avoided this massive panic. Because eventually, the virus was gonna come here, but by the time it came here, the federal government [could have] said, ‘Listen, it’s here, but don’t worry. We knew it was coming and unbeknownst to you, we’ve been getting the country ready. We are ready, do not panic.’
For now, Brooks is doing what he can to get the word out, including by recording viral messages with his father, comedic legend Mel Brooks:
And Brooks isn’t the only plague author sounding off about the virus. Chuck Wendig, author of Wanderers — about a mysterious affliction that causes hordes of people to sleepwalk across the United States, leading to horrified reactions from the rest of the public and the eventual collapse of society — also sees plenty of parallels. “We’ve seen plenty of emergent threats just in my lifetime alone, whether we’re talking HIV, H1N1, SARS, MERS, Ebola, and so forth,” he told SyFy Wire. “The models always suggest the possibility of a pandemic, and so it’s not really me foreseeing it, but rather, basic scientific sense that one of these was coming around the bend at some point.”
It’s definitely getting a little weird. There are a lot of little touchstones that the book introduced that we’re watching play out in the news — all the way down to an artificial intelligence predicting it before people did. In my book, Black Swan, and in reality, Blue Dot. Which, eek, even the names are uncomfortably close to one another.
All the same, Wendig does see some silver lining in our current situation. In this book, the pandemic gives rise to an extremist insurgency that threatens to overthrow the government. But in the real world, Wendig is encouraged to see that people seem to be coming together…for the moment.
I think what’s also useful to see — and this is something that Wanderers works hard to put out there — is that you also see a lot of community-building, and love, and caring,” Wendig tells us. “In zombie movies, we’re often made to understand that the zombies are themselves kind of an environmental problem, and the ‘true monster’ is other people. And yet, in reality we see time and time again that people are out there to help each other. That, and hoard toilet paper, apparently. Are people pooping a lot in a crisis? Maybe they are.
Yeah, I gotta admit I don’t quite get the toilet paper obsession we’re seeing right now. I don’t see that running out anytime soon. And as Brooks points out, the rush to stock up can cause problems, too. “The problem with hysteria, with panic, is you see these people cramming into their local supermarkets to buy emergency food that they don’t need,” he said. “And in doing so, they’re spreading the virus to each other. Then they come home with toilet paper and coronavirus.”
Wendig’s book, by the way, has been optioned for adaptation by QC Entertainment. Maybe when this is all over, we’ll see it played out on the screen. Or maybe we won’t want to touch plague stories for a long time; it’s a toss-up.