There are books about pandemics that detail how they broke out and how they were handled. And then there are books that take you right into a world where people are dropping dead because of a disease that has no cure at all. And of what happens and how systems break down as the body count mounts. The Lord of Horror, Stephen King’s The Stand is firmly in the latter category.
Initially published in an abridged form in 1978 (yes, King has been around since then and actually even before that time), The Stand is the story of a world gone mad after a biological weapon is accidentally released. The weapon is basically a highly infectious strain of flu (yes, we sense your shivers) codenamed Captain Trips, which has a fatality rate of almost 99.4 per cent. Of course, it is supposed to be kept safely at a secure location. But it leaks out. And when it leaks out, mayhem ensues.
With that sort of fatality rate, Captain Trips literally starts wiping out huge portions of the earth’s population. Some survive, but those that do have no idea as to how and why they are not dead. And as the casualties mount, almost all human systems – the government, the police, the law, tradition and even basic decency – start disappearing. Suddenly, there are just a handful of people left in the world. And forget civilisation, even civility, hangs by a thread as people take sides and groups are formed. In the midst of all this death and destruction, the oldest battle of them all is waged one more time – between good and evil. This being Stephen King, you really do not know who is going to win till the very end, so do not bet on either side. Actually, this being Stephen King, you do not even know IF there is going to be a winner!
What is amazing is that King tells this story across an amazing thousand or more pages. And yet it never feels as if he is stretching it too far. You literally live through the horror of a world falling apart, and experience both heroism of selfless folk and the evil of those who take advantage of the weakness of others. It is a staggeringly brilliant and well, because this is Steven King, an often disturbing tale as well. What makes it very unlike many Stephen King titles is that there is no other-worldly element. No ghosts or secret forces. No, this is just about human beings. And King shows us that in terms of sheer horror, they can beat ghosts hands down. Any day.
Of course, COVID is nowhere near as bad Captain Trip. But The Stand gives us an idea of what could happen if a virus got out of hand. And goes beyond body counts and death to the changes in human behaviour, especially as all vestiges of law and order disappear. Stephen King would return to a similar formula in Under the Dome. But that is another book recommendation for another day.
For today, we simply would say: read The Stand. And you will know what a pandemic can REALLY do. And why we should perhaps simply destroy all biological weapons. For somewhere out there, in some remote, allegedly “secure” facility, are stored viruses that have been designed with just one purpose: to kill people.
Read The Stand also for another important reason – to discover that you can read a 1300 page book in a week. Yeah, it’s THAT outStanding. Pun intended.