Authors of speculative fiction may not be prophets, but they can be prescient. Take this summer’s Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay (Morrow), a “standout thriller,” PW’s starred review said, in which “the state of Massachusetts is under quarantine, hospitals are overwhelmed, and people are panicking as authorities struggle to maintain order.” The illness is a rabies-like virus rather than Covid-19, but the book, which focuses on a doctor racing to save her pregnant friend and safely deliver her baby, shares a timely theme with several forthcoming titles that also were written before the current crisis: pandemics are personal. In each, a virus is a major plot point, but the focus is on people as much as the plague.
The Animals in That Country
Part pandemic novel and part beast fable, McKay’s novel, which takes its title from a Margaret Atwood poem, imagines a disease that causes humans to understand animal language, down to the lowliest insect. Acerbic wildlife guide Jean and a dingo named Sue set off through the Australian Outback in pursuit of the former’s son, who has absconded south after losing his mind, like so many others, due to the new voices that now seemingly occupy every space.
Elegy for the Undead
In what PW’s review called “a unique, intimate zombie tale,” Jude and Lyle are married and living in suburban Philadelphia when the Absolute Necrotic Arrest virus breaks out. After Lyle is bitten by one of the infected, Jude faces losing his husband to increasingly terrifying bouts of zombie-rage, while “flashbacks to the early days of their relationship and just before the virus broke out,” the review said, “create a moving depiction of their love.”
The End of Men
A lethal virus that only affects men originates in Scotland five years from now and rapidly spreads across the globe. Sweeney-Baird’s debut, written as a series of first-person accounts by women involved in the treatment and documentation of the illness, and in rebuilding what’s left of society, addresses the personal and political havoc wrought by a plague.
Girl Minus X
When a memory-destroying disease sweeps through Vancouver, the government rushes to quarantine the infected, who are no longer classified as people. Dany, a teenager with an eidetic memory, has been barely scraping by with her younger sister, Mac, since their aunt Norah was sent to one of the prison-hospices. Fearing that Mac, who is nonverbal, might meet Norah’s fate, Dany attempts to rescue Norah and keep Mac safe in what PW’s starred review called a “prismatic look at disaster striking people already in crisis.”
Winter proposes a post-pandemic near future in which robots are the majority ruling class and human survivors live on preserves, largely free of AI influence. A murder among the humans threatens the system, setting in motion the “entertaining if overstuffed” plot, PW’s review said, which offers “allusions to America’s history and how it led to the novel’s present and the implications of humanity going extinct while the robots they created thrive.”
The Way Out
After a virus causes miscarriages and birth deformities worldwide, new laws forbid natural pregnancy and mandate the use of birth control implants and artificial wombs. The “eerily relevant and unrelenting” story, per PW’s review, centers on a government cover-up involving telepathic children, mining the tension between public health and individual autonomy.
We Hear Voices
Green’s debut conjures the psychic and, in this case, supernatural challenges faced by a pandemic’s survivors. Rachel’s young son, Billy, has recovered from a deadly virus with encouragement from his new imaginary friend, Delfy. When Delfy’s influence turns sinister, Rachel learns that other child survivors are similarly afflicted. “Green’s truly terrifying tale,” PW’s starred review said, “wisely focuses on the human element in the midst of a global catastrophe.”