You say the word plague, and most people’s eyes light up with horror or interest. Because, despite numerous plagues over the course of human history, only one really springs to mind with that one word. One that doesn’t need an introduction. I’m talking about the Black Plague.
The Black Death, in and of itself, has had its day in a wide variety of books of both fiction and nonfiction types, even stretching into urban legends to this day. The horror of this disease is well known and used to great effect. As Ducky in NCIS once told us “The infected would have breakfast with their families and supper with their ancestors in Paradise.” I find myself doubting that statement is hyperbole. Y. pestis was some nasty business but we’re learning more about it. In fact, we’re still finding victims.
The reason for this particular post though isn’t exactly about the Plague. It’s about how to take its example and add it into a story. I’m not just talking about two or more characters meeting because of a Plague pit either, though that would be awesome.
Plague is a great standard to set futuristic disease against. Not the number of dead, necessarily, but the ratio. One in five Londoners sounds a lot scarier than 100,000 in a 1665, right? Also useful to an author is the mortality rate. This thing was terrifyingly fast and carried by animals that could get into populations easily, which made infection rates ridiculous. There is the infected populace to consider too, beyond the sickness itself. Londoners became depressed and querulous during the big waves of Plague over the centuries, and very discontent after the disease had died down.
Y. pestis set a pretty high bar. I hope it inspires an enterprising author to set it even higher.
Science in the pursuit of Fiction.