This man was majorly twisted. Every time I pick up another of his books I am more convinced. He had serious issues. Fortunately for me, they translated into some pretty good books. (Dune, his truly great work, is something I don’t feel quite up to tackling in a review yet. I need to work my way up to it.)
So. The White Plague starts out with a bang, literally. A molecular biologist, who had just moved to Ireland with his wife and twin girls for a research grant, sees said wife and children blown up in an attack by the IRA. This, naturally, drives him mad. At first people don’t see the signs, they just think he’s grieving. And by the time they do it is much too late. Because this mild mannered scientist engineered a devastating disease in his basement (I know, not the most realistic, but remember he is a molecular biologist), virtually 100% fatal, that only attacks women. In retribution against the Irish for the death of his family he releases the plague on Irish soil. He considerately warns all other nations to quarantine Ireland, but by the time anyone takes these warnings seriously the plague has become a world-wide epidemic. Riots break out in every country. Panic is everywhere. All of North Africa is wiped out. Rome is nuked to try to contain the outbreak there. Cities around the globe are burned to the ground to ‘sterilize’ them. A few pockets of women are sequestered here and there, but they are very few and although pretty much every other scientist of note in the world is working on a cure or a vaccine, they aren’t making any progress.
What comes next is the heart of the book in my opinion, and I won’t give it away. I will give a hint though – the madman who designed the plague returns to Ireland to see his handiwork, and it turns out to be more than he anticipated. His reaction to what he has caused, as well as the reactions of various other characters in different parts of the world, examine human reactions to such a crisis. I don’t know how I would react if I were one of the lucky women to escape death, but Herbert’s guess is probably a pretty good one. I don’t know how my husband would respond to the new world order that is inevitable in the face of such a decimation of the female population, but Herbert gives me several possibilities. His insight into human nature has always been one of my favorite things about his work, and he doesn’t disappoint in The White Plague. Still, the man really was twisted.