Relaxing in the Age of Corona

Friday, March 13th, 2020

People are relaxing in the Age of Corona by watching Contagion and reading pandemic fiction, like The Stand:

Trade paperback sales of several well-known novels about outbreaks rose in the first eight weeks of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, according to NPD: Sales of Max Brooks’s “World War Z,” for example, rose 33%, while Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven” spiked 50%. Print sales of adult nonfiction about contagious disease as a category, meanwhile, were up 52%.

Some readers are so intrigued by books on deadly viruses, they’re chasing titles that aren’t even in print anymore — like Dean Koontz’s 1981 novel “The Eyes of Darkness,” which mentions a fictional virus called “Wuhan-400” from the same part of China where the current coronavirus started. The author’s agent, Richard S. Pine, says any connection to the current outbreak is misguided.

“I’ve spoken with Dean about ‘The Eyes of Darkness’ on a number of occasions and can assure you that he doesn’t consider it a pandemic novel,” said Mr. Pine. Wuhan-400 only makes a brief appearance at the end of the book, he said, noting that it is mostly about a mother who goes on a quest after thinking she sees her dead child.


  1. Graham says:

    Contagion was pretty good, and it certainly stuck in my mind all these years.

    As the flagbearer and only [IIRC] example of a pandemic film using a Chinese lung virus, it holds up well. Terrifying.

    Much better than the movies we’ve had using African blood fevers.

    We seem to oscillate between one and the other as events dictate.

    My coworkers and I have been discussing Contagion, World War Z, and The Seventh Seal as mandatory viewing.

  2. Five Daarstens says:

    There was an episode of The Avengers called “You’ll Catch Your Death”, (1968). In it an evil organization invents a cold virus that kills instantly. It is rated as a top-10 Avengers episode of all time.

  3. Graham says:

    I forgot The Masque of the Red Death starring Vincent Price. Campy, yet oddly chilling throughout, and all the more so at the end.

    The personification of the Red Death has some killer lines.

    Part of the setup was to make Prospero a sort of Satanist in that very Faustian mold. When confronted, he assumes the Red Death can be addressed as Satan’s ambassador.

    He asks who the spectre has come for. It answers, “Many”.


    “Not all.”

    At which Prospero smiles until the spectre challenges his use of the term ambassador and his identification of the disease with the will of Satan. It insists “I do not serve Satan.” Or something like that.

    And then Prospero, “But Satan rules the universe!”

    And the spectre, deadpan, “He does not rule alone.”

    The metaphysical implications of this exchange are one of the most chilling notions ever offered in cinema.

  4. Kirk says:

    What’s astounding in all this is how soon we’ve forgotten all the past pandemics, and are behaving as though this is something completely new and horrible. Reality? Look at the Asian Flu Epidemic of 1959-ish, or any of the other more recent outbreaks. Where was the panic for H1N1? Or, the last go-round under Obama?

    T-totally nuts. I’m watching all this, looking at the numbers, and all I can think is that someone is pulling off the information operation of the century–This thing isn’t even in the lethality range of the flu variant we’re already dealing with, this year. And, I honestly think we’ve already had it and done with it, around here–It’s just that the testing for it hasn’t caught up. All we knew back in January was that we all had a bad, really nasty lingering low-level cold. Morbid curiosity may lead me to go get tested, but what purpose would that serve, other than to know we already had it?

    The whole thing is nuts, and an example of the terrible risk assessment that people do these days. I’ll bet you money that the eventual death toll from domestic violence after we coop everyone up for a couple of months is going to be higher than the actual number of COVID-19 deaths. Not a lot of money, I’ll grant, but I’m confident enough to bet something on it.

  5. Lucklucky says:

    “This thing isn’t even in the lethality range of the flu variant we’re already dealing with, this year.”

    I think the infection vs deaths are quite above the flu Kirk. Do you have other information I am not aware of?

  6. Kirk says:


    By the numbers.

    That’s an example of what I’m basing my opinion on. The more I see of this, the more I have to wonder about the sanity of the response to it all. This isn’t even on the level of a bad cold and flu season overall, and has certainly killed fewer people than the last major flu epidemic back in 2009.

    Which then leads us to the next question: Why did this blow up in the media the way it did, and why is everyone panicking? Look carefully, and you can see the outlines of either an extraordinarily inept government response set, starting in China, or a careful and successful information operation targeting the American economy and Donald Trump. At this point, looking at the numbers? I’m starting to consider the latter as the more likely. This whole set of responses is just… Nuts.

    Christ, even if this stuff were as communicable as they say it is, we’re still looking at what amounts to a really bad cold season, not the apocalypse.

    I actually think it’s been endemic here in the US since December, and when they start doing retroactive antigen testing to see who’s already had it, they’re going to discover that many of us already had a visit from it. I think I’m going through the end stages of it right now, TBH–What I’ve been fighting off since about mid-January matches very well with the symptom set they’ve published.

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