When Truth is Stranger than Fiction - Debbie Bennett

So I started writing this bog in early March, conscious of my failure to come up with the goods in February. Early March, when reports were coming in and the world was just starting to wake up to the fact that this Chinese Thing might be something we ought to take seriously …

Sunday 5th April. And the world as we knew it has changed forever. Which might sound a bit over the top, but personally I don’t think things will ever be the same afterwards. If there even is an afterwards and this pandemic isn’t something we will have to learn to live alongside. Too many people have already lost their jobs and livelihoods. Have we done the right thing? I have to admit I’m in the camp which thinks that the cure may actually be worse than the disease and that more people will die from the economic impact than the virus. But we are lucky – we are healthy, we still have jobs and can work from home.

I suspect that over the coming years, the post-apocalyptic novel will be the Next Big Thing in the literary sphere. Cormac McCarthy, anyone? I confess I’ve not read The Road. I just can’t bring myself to wade through the lack of proper punctuation – for me it detracts from the story and jumps me out, and it’s just too much like hard work.

What else is out there currently? You have to kick off with the grand-daddy of the virus tale – good old Captain Tripps himself, from the pen of the great man Stephen King in The Stand. First published in 1978, I read this sometime in the 1980s and I’ve not yet tried the extended version, but I have to confess The Stand for me is forever entangled with Brat-Pack actors Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald et al from the tv mini-series I saw in the mid-90s. Not that that’s a bad thing and it’s an excellent example of the post-apocalyptic novel. Continuing the SK thread and we have Cell, with the virus as a pulse on a cellphone network – if that ever became a possibility, the entire teenage population of the world would succumb within minutes!

There’s also Fever by Deon Meyer. One of my recent favourites – a post-apocalyptic tale of survival after the virus in South Africa. It was even a corona virus, I think. And AR Shaw’s China Pandemic – scarily accurate and currently seeing a resurge in sales.

Or space-viruses anyone? Cold Storage by David Koepp. It came from outer space – well this nasty little fungus-bug thingy did. Shoved deep underground for decades until everyone forgot exactly why they were supposed to keep the deep-store bit of the bunker nice and cold … can you tell I loved this book? And of course there’s Tess Gerritson’s Gravity – which is why you should never do experiments in space, anyway. And of course, the classic Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – who remembers seeing this on tv way back in the when?

But no zombies please. We could get into The Strain and The Passage – I don’t think either book actually mentions the Z-word, although that’s quite clearly what we are talking about. While making curtains, I’m half-watching Z Nation on Netflix. Same old, same old, but it passes the time while on lockdown!

Should we even be reading these books? Is it all too close to home at the moment? But that’s what we do as writers, face these fears and then skin them right down to the bone and analyse them. As a reader – and as a writer – we come out the other side having learned something new about ourselves. Let’s hope we can do it in real life too.

Stay safe, people.

www.debbiebennett.co.uk

Comments

Jan Needle said…
I've always been a bit wary of post apocalypse writing, on the basis that it would have to be pretty damn bad to be worse than what we've got. And while The Road is by no means a bad book (punctuation not withstanding), McCarthy's written many better ones. But how about this as a piece of outrageous bandwagon jumping? My extremely gruelling novella The Blood Hound is up for free on Kindle for the next couple of days, and it makes my point for me I think: humans are capable of the most unutterable vileness, as well as its diametric opposite. The Scottish writer Brendan Gisby described it on Goodreads as 'the finest piece of reportage I’ve read since Capote’s In Cold Blood.' I'd love to think he's right, but ICB's another book that makes imaginary horror pretty well redundant. Here's the url for anyone who wants to upset themselves during lockdown... amazon.co.uk/dp/B07WFC956Z
I opened a box at random yesterday (searching for my art materials) and the book on top was Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'. The one underneath it was Hugh Howey's 'Wool' with the strapline "If the lies don't kill you, the truth will." If you want some horror fiction for lockdown, read that...
Debbie Bennett said…
Brave New World. I read that book age 10 after I saw a small section (the babies on the floor) in an English comprehension workbook. I didn't understand a lot of the novel at that age, but it was probably the first science fiction book I read and that got me into the genre.
julia jones said…
I get publicity updates from Penguin (in my Yachting Monthly reviewer role) and they were certainly first on my radar for literary response, telling everyone to re-read (or ideally re-purchase) The Plague. Then a few weeks later I had an uncharacteristically panicked outburst (about the likely breakdown of public order) from one of my children who'd been reading The Death of Grass. Since when I have felt completely justified in sticking to my regular diet of postwar naval memoirs. That was something of an apocalypse after all...
julia jones said…
I get publicity updates from Penguin (in my Yachting Monthly reviewer role) and they were certainly first on my radar for literary response, telling everyone to re-read (or ideally re-purchase) The Plague. Then a few weeks later I had an uncharacteristically panicked outburst (about the likely breakdown of public order) from one of my children who'd been reading The Death of Grass. Since when I have felt completely justified in sticking to my regular diet of postwar naval memoirs. That was something of an apocalypse after all...

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