There’s a crazy thrill you get from reading about world-altering disasters from the safe and cozy confines of your room. Whether it’s disease, zombies or weird planetary events, here are some of the freakiest epidemics to hit literature.
1. Blindness by Jose Saramago
It’s one of the eeriest scenarios ever published. Jose Saramago imagines a community torn apart by an inexplicable epidemic of blindness. One by one, the residents of an unnamed city lose their sense of sight, but that’s not even the scary part. The victims soon find themselves trapped in an overcrowded asylum. Their circumstances degenerate further as food and medicine are scarce, families are separated and social order completely collapses. Saramago’s vision of humanity (pun totally intended) is so unnerving you won’t want to put the book down. Or close your eyes.
2. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
One second can change your life, especially when that second entails losing your loved one to an inexplicable, rapture-like event. Yes, within one mere second, random individuals vanish into thin air. The citizens of Mapleton cope with aftermath of this near-apocalyptic event in Tom Perrotta’s mysterious and poignant novel. Kids drop out of college, moms join cults, some marriages dissolve, other relationships bloom. Anything goes when you’re grappling with grief and anxiety in a world devoid of logic and reason. A series based on the book is currently being developed for HBO by no stranger to weird worlds — former Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof.
3. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Middle school can feel like an eternity, but it literally is for eleven-year-old Julie. When the earth’s rotation increases for no explainable reason, the days gradually grow longer. It’s imperceptible at first, but before you know it, days are forty hours long. Everything from climate to crop cycles is thrown off. Amidst this near-apocalyptic backdrop, familial tensions grows, friendships come and go, and any attempts at normalcy are thrown out of orbit. And you thought your adolescence sucked.
4. Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
What is it about astronomical disasters exacerbating the tumult of the teenage years? When a massive asteroid hits the moon, knocking it out of orbit, a slew of natural disasters result. While the usual end of the world tropes persist — food shortages, disease, etc. — Miranda clings to the vestiges of the life she once knew, ice skating away her days and hanging out with friends. Who knows how long they have to survive?
5. The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Rick Grimes wakes from a coma to a walker-infested* world. It’s a familiar story now that the sprawling series has taken on a life of its own, evolving into a hyper-successful TV show and a pop culture phenomenon. But none of that would have happened if the first graphic novel wasn’t full of such compelling characters and moral quandaries.
*For those unfamiliar with the series, the word “zombie” is rarely used in favor of the term “walker.”
6. The Plague by Albert Camus
An existential classic. Albert Camus chronicles an outbreak of the black plague in the Algerian city of Oran, but, as usual, the disease is just start of the horrors to follow. Mass panic, hysteria and imprisonment ensue in this masterful account of extreme human suffering.
7. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Hig survived the flu that killed everyone, including his wife and friends, and lives in an abandoned airplane hangar with only his dog and a gun-toting neighbor for company. One day he hears a mysterious voice over a radio transmission, reigniting faith in the midst of his isolation. He decides to follow the voice into the unknown in the hope he’s not a victim of his own optimism.
The image at the top was created by digital artist Christophe Dessaigne.