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The White Plague by Frank Herbert (1982-09-21) Hardcover – January 1, 1746
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Top reviews from the United States
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Boy this book on kindle if you must but, my advice, is to find a hard copy (preferably hardcover) and keep it around for your later enjoyment.
This should have been sufficient material for a focused novel. For reasons that seem murky, Herbert chose to limit his treatment of the basic issue to his first few chapters. Most of the book is taken up with the scientist's long journey on foot across Ireland in the company of an IRA terrorist, a Catholic priest, and a mysterious boy. Much of the dialogue is about Irish anger over the way they have been treated by the British. All this is moderately interesting, but largely irrelevant to the basic story. The scientist, by now shamed by the consequences of his actions, helps to devise a cure before going mad. Herbert offers some speculations about the social impact of the plague toward the end of the book, but they seem far too late.
Top reviews from other countries
Its an interesting novel in that it deals with the end of the world from the very personal perspective of only a few characters.
Sadly the characters are not so fascinating and don't really have enough depth to sustain the novel convincingly.
As a result it does drag somewhat in the middle.
For an alternative take on a post-apocalyptic scenario, I'm sure you could do a lot worse. And maybe even better.
This book is essential though to explore what humanity would be if one mad scientist could take over the world by injecting into it a crazy plague of modern configuration, that is to say of genetic conception. The world would panic first of all and then it would take the strictest possible measures to clean up the plate, stop the plague and boost scientific progress and research to find a cure. But the book is so much more.
First the man scientist is described as being made schizophrenic by an event that kills all his family, wife and children and his desire to get avenged leads him into building himself a second identity to escape the herds of cops and vigilantes and bounty hunters once his vengeance is on tracks and then this second persona becomes the carrier and host of the mad scientist under this secondary identity and his schizophrenia is unsolvable. It has to run to its end and its end is to run away into madness, insanity, complete absurd mythology, to become a saga, an extra-natural being, a bad fairy and yet a feared little green man in Ireland, the place of his ordeal.
Second the book is very good at describing the relationships between the scientists who are needed to find the solution, politicians who try to keep the planet on its orbit and the military people who are endowed with the power and task of eradicating all groups, small or large, that could menace the security and welfare of the survivors. Herbert chose a very sensitive target: women and interestingly enough he does not spend that much time describing the ordeal and completely loss of soul, mind and spirit of these males reduced to their own means. The situation is sexual and the crisis is sexual but the book is discreet about that level which is present but between the lines more that in the text itself. It is true Herbert is building all his Dune fiction on a sexual speculation about producing the perfect line of perfect human leaders who could become immortal if necessary, but the sexual part of that sexual game is never really describe.
Third the book is a picaresque book that makes a band of four men, the mad scientist under his fake name, the terrorist who set the bomb that killed the mad scientist’s family, a priest who has survived a mob attack on his religious institution where hundreds of priests and other Catholic personnel were killed, and finally a mute boy, the only survivor of his family though we will never know what happened really. He will remain without a name till the very last but one chapter where he will be named Sian.
Fourth it is obvious Herbert is settling some accounts with Ireland, and particularly the Irish, and secondarily with the Catholic Church. He does not miss one detail and one occasion to give some more details about their degenerate immorality as the result of some strict and dogmatic, not to say fundamentalist preaching, teaching and coercing from that church to keep their sheep in the right path, in the right meadow, in the right awe and fear in front of a punishing over-moral God. And it is all o vercompensated with criminal violence and alcohol galore.
But fifth, last but not least, or is it least but not last, or rather worst but not last, he shows that the future is never written ahead of time no matter what, that evil is human and not extra-anything you can imagine, that from evil always comes some good, be it in this case the complete purge of humanity and the reversal of sexual roles, the surviving women becoming the queens of the earth for several generations at least, as long as it will take to bring the balance of sexes back to one man for one woman and vice versa. This is founded on a deep belief in Herbert that humanity has a long history of insane developing phases separated by catastrophic periods that brought humanity back to some reason and sanity. History always brings crazy criminals down to their knees and humanity can start anew after that leveling of the crazy ones who had managed to seize power, even democratically, which is a lot simpler than with pure force.
In other words his deepest belief is that if humanity is left free to develop all it is able to develop, particularly science and technology, it will create a redeeming and epiphanic purge that will bring humanity back to some humility and at the same time endowed with some higher understanding that for a while you have to play it simple and discreet, but that will not last very long because democracy will bring those who found the cure (like the scientists who invented the Atom Bomb) or those who maintain the social peace during the crisis (like the SS) to power and then we may get into another hellish vicious circle, and they called that the Cold War after the SS and the Atom Bomb were put away in some cupboard for later use eventually, CIA versus KGB, and the famous Balance of Power and Deterrence Theory.
And yet Herbert remains an optimist. He may conclude, “in the long run, it is impossible to stand in the way of the exploration of truth. Someone will learn, somewhere, sometime.” But no matter own deep the scourge will be humanity will get out of it restructured and probably stronger.
We could though regret the fact that the book is slightly slow but understanding the details of this situation was needed to understand the full message.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU