It’s the early 2020s and the world has been gripped by a global pandemic. Sound familiar? But without wishing to in any way trivialise the very serious ongoing Coronavirus outbreak, the fictional virus Lauren Beukes has envisaged in her new novel (which was, of course, written before the recent crisis), is in many even ways worse, killing almost the entire male population of the world as an initial dose of flu turns into prostate cancer for virtually all male recipients.
Teenaged Miles and his mother Cole are away from their native South Africa visiting family in the US when the new plague hits. Miles turns out to be immune. His father is less lucky. And unfortunately, Cole’s morally flexible sister Billie is keen to take financial advantage of the new possibilities created by her nephew now being one of the last fertile male humans left on Earth. Beukes’ novel is a compelling and gripping thriller given added resonance by the current global outbreak.
Nobody would deny that 2020 has been a very challenging year for many people as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt throughout the world. However, it is worth remembering that hard as things are now, there have often been much darker times in the past, as this extract from my book, A-Z of Exeter – Places, People, History (Amberley, 2019) reminds us:
“Although historical detail on the outbreaks is perhaps mercifully rather lacking, the several outbreaks of plague to hit the city in medieval times were probably the worst things to ever happen in Exeter.
Just as the disastrous 1918-19 influenza pandemic was contributed to by the return of servicemen from the First World War, the return of warriors from the Sixth Crusade probably helped facilitate the spread the plague to many areas including Exeter in 1234. It is thought more than two thirds of the city’s population died. Life for the remaining 30% (or so) during this dark period could not have been very pleasant either.
In 1349-1351, the survivors’ great-grandchildren went through much the same thing when The Black Death hit the city with particular severity. This time, half of the city was wiped out. A further third were killed when the plague returned eleven years’ later. Amongst other things, the outbreaks led to a delay in the competition of the construction of Exeter Cathedral.
In general, it is believed the global population fell from 450 million to 375 million as a result of the Black Death with the population not returning to its previous level for around 200 years.
The plague returned again in 1479-80 and again (now after the medieval era) in 1542, claiming the life of the father of Tudro historian John Hooker amongst many others.
Later, the city braced itself for the arrival of the Great Plague in 1665. Preparations were made. Fear was widespread. Mercifully, this time, Exeter was spared.
Exeter has also been subject to other periodic outbreaks of disease. Just over 400 people were killed by a cholera outbreak in Exeter and St Thomas in 1832.”