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March 3, 2009 | Comments ()


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100 Books in One Year #50: The White Plague by Frank Herbert

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Book Reviews | March 3, 2009 | Comments ()


If someone gave you a book by the author of Dune, what would you expect? It sure as hell wouldn’t be this staggeringly awesome social scarestory in the vein of Dr. Strangelove. To say it blew my mind would be an understatement.

John Roe O’Neill, a molecular biologist doing research in Ireland, watches from a second story bank window as his wife and twin children are decimated in an IRA bombing. He goes insane — developing an alter ego and selling off all the vestiges of his old life — and creates a supervirus that instantaneously kills every woman who comes into contact with it. He unleashes the plague, called the white plague for the spots it causes on the skin, in Ireland, England, and Libya. What’s fascinating is that we are on the side of the terrorist in this, feeling that his reaction isn’t necessarily tragic.

What follows then is a riff on the Irish civil war, world government, religion, and science, all deftly wrapped up in this brutal Armaggedon foxtrot. From the Pope to the President, nobody is safe from the satirical saber of Herbert. Having never read Dune, I didn’t know what to expect from this novel, but Sweet Mary McCrae, was it fucking spot on. It manages to blast everyone, attacking science and religion, the IRA and the British, government and the common folk, each with equal blows.

Written in 1982, it’s frightening accurate and plausible, in the wake of 9/11 and more aptly the Oklahoma City Bombings. All it takes is one mad scientist to poison the well, and the world is thrown into chaos. Feminist treatises could be written on the entire novel — particularly the shocker ending. Well, not so much a shocker, as a viciously black comic goose.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.



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