With the re-release of this novella, readers can see how Jack London joined the legion of people who got things so wrong when it came to predicting the future. Able to foresee worldwide devastation and crisis as a result of diseases, he didn’t quite realise that humanity would invent a suit designed to protect against germs and viruses. In his world, the ‘Red Death’ plague swept through the world in 2013, and the story takes place in 2073 when the last survivor of those times is telling his tale.
It must get tiring to live in the post-apocalyptic era. It was certainly tiring reading this novella wherein the same things happen again and again with apparently the same degree of surprise each time (this plague that has killed literally billions of people has claimed yet another victim? Surely not!). For example, as the former professor describes his escape from the plague he relates an incident in which a doctor decides to stay with his wife to see her to the next life in comfort. This would be fine (lovely, even) but this is not exactly a rare event in the book.
There are good aspects to the book, of course, or it wouldn’t be worth bringing it back into print. The descriptions here are very well done and do really help the reader in visualising how the world looks 60 years from now (it also helps that there are little macabre illustrations throughout). The standout section of the book is easily the chilling part where the old man recalls how he watched a love interest viciously beaten and enslaved because he was not strong enough to stand up for her.
But whether the story itself is effective for the reader depends on if you agree with his vision of a post-apocalyptic humanity. Part of the entire point is how Homo sapiens would degrade very quickly after such a catastrophe. If you don’t agree with his dim view then it might fall a little flat for you.
Though London does manage great descriptions, and there is a lot to be said for the historical curiosity of reading one of the first ‘last man on Earth’ stories as we know them today, ultimately this has long since been beaten by any number of books or films. Probably not worth your time.
THE SCARLET PLAGUE / AUTHOR: JACK LONDON / PUBLISHER: CREATESPACE INDEPENDENT PUBLISHING PLATFORM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW