Monday, March 2, 2015

The Scarlet Plague (a book review post)

Jack London is a writer I greatly admire, as much (or more) for his work ethic as for anything he ever wrote, though I did love both The Call of the Wild and White Fang when I read them as a teenager. In fact, they started me off on months worth of reading books with animals as central characters. Which I eventually moved away from, because, the farther you got from London, the worse the books got. But I digress...

We often think of post-apocalyptic literature as being a new phenomenon but, really, it's not. In its modern iteration, it goes back almost 200 years, all the way to Mary Shelley, but even ancient cultures wrote apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stories. With that in mind, London's The Scarlet Plague isn't all the old and isn't all that original in what it does. In fact, there are strong echoes of Shelley's The Last Man in London's book.

What it does do that is interesting, though, is that it jumps 100 years ahead of when London wrote it and set that year as the apocalypse but, then, it jumps ahead another 60 years as its setting and has the last survivor of the collapse of civilization telling the story to his grandchildren. In that, we get both the story of the apocalypse and what happens after the apocalypse.

Of course, one of the big draws for a book like this is seeing how the author was seeing his projected future. London miss-projected on flight and filled the air with dirigibles rather than airplanes. But he got wireless communication even if he did also keep newspapers. I suppose the downfall of physical print media would have been unfathomable during it's rise at the beginning of the 20th century. Amazingly, he also pegged the world population.

There's a section where Smith is trying to explain diseases and germs to his grandchildren. That bit is particularly interesting in light of the current controversy over vaccines. I'm going to hazard a guess and say that London would have been pro-vaccine.

It's a fairly short read, so, in that, it's certainly worth it. It took me less than two hours. And you can get it free for the Kindle, so it's hard to lose there, too. Seriously, it's more than worth it just to see the perspective of someone writing about now from 100 years ago. It's not the greatest thing ever, not even great by London standards, but it's good. And better than a lot of drivel coming out today.

24 comments:

  1. Can't beat free. Not read that one, although like you, I read both Call of the Wild and White Fang as a kid.

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  2. I'm a fan of Jack London, but I didn't enjoy that story. It drew me in at first because I was curious what his take on a future apocalypse would be, but then it kind of fell apart for me, character-wise.

    Aside from that, To Build a Fire will always be a favorite. :)

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    1. L.G.: Well, "To Build a Fire" is his signature piece. It's what started everything for him.
      But I did find the characterizations interesting. Especially the language usage.

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  3. A free book that's better than the modern drivel piling up today? That's pretty much all I needed to hear. I'd not read any Jack London in school but I am fascinated by post-apocalyptic literature that's not just crap like The Hunger Games rehashed.

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    1. ABftS: This one will give you an idea of where all the modern drivel came from, I suppose. heh
      Now, I want to read the Shelley story.

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  4. Further proof that every possible story has probably already been written.

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  5. Sounds interesting. I think early 19th century projections of the future are fascinating. Getting things wrong is to be expected. The fact that he got anything right is impressive.

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    1. TAS: It is impressive. The reference to wireless communication was especially interesting.

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    2. I'm way behind on London. The only work I've read all the way through is "To Build a Fire."

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    3. TAS: I also have The Iron Heel set aside to read.

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  6. Deja vu again! I read this on GoodReads the other day. I'm still reading the book I've been reading and haven't had a chance to get to this one yet. I do want to read this.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Lee: I do think you'll like this one.

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  7. Ooh, I do like Jack London. I think I had The Scarlet Plague on my list at some point but never got around to getting my hands on a copy. Good thing for e-books.

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    1. Jeanne: Yes, good thing for them, because you would probably never find this in a book store.

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  8. I should definitely review more books in my blog.
    I've been reading yours posts about movies like Whiplash, and I really like those.

    You can find my opinions about the 7th art here:

    www.artbyarion.blogspot.com

    Cheers!

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    1. Arion: I probably won't have very many more movie reviews until we hit the summer season (though I do have one more), but I have a lot of book reviews coming up.
      Thanks for stopping by!

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  9. Call of The Wild and White Fang were much loved, but I don't think I read any more London stories- liking the historical quirks, don't own a kindle but guessing you can probably download in other forms?

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    1. Lisa: You can download a free Kindle app for just about any device, which makes the form not matter, since you can do the whole Kindle thing.

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  10. The book sounds good, but I'm not a Jack London fan. To Build a Fire upsets me. I'm a wimpy wuss. I had to read a novel of his for a college class. It wasn't about animals. It was about a man who becomes a successful writer and kills himself. Sad. Too sad. I'm depressed enough as it is.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Janie: I haven't read that one. I'll have to look it up.

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  11. Thanks for sharing! I haven't read London in decades, but it's good to put him out there for my boys.
    Veronica

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