I recently started reading The Scarlet Plague by Jack London, an early novella (first published in 1912) in what would now be called the post-apocalyptic sub-genre of sci-fi.  It’s not all that well-written, certainly not one of London’s mature works, but it’s interesting as a literary curiosity, an indication of the farther range of London’s writerly imagination.  One’s first impression might be that such a story is out of character for London, writer of intense and mostly realistic nature dramas, but I think it actually does find a natural fit within London’s oeuvre.  London was an ecologically-minded writer, keenly aware of the contingent nature of human existence, our vital dependence on the world’s animals and plants that we blithely take for granted.  In an essay called “The Other Animals” London wrote:

You must not deny your relatives, the other animals.  Their history is your history, and if you kick them to the bottom of the abyss, to the bottom of the abyss you go yourself.  By them you stand or fall. 

This novella about a natural catastrophe that wipes out most of the human race is a reminder of the delicate and fragile position that the human race occupies in the world’s ecology, and anticipates a more well-known story of global ecological catastrophe, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

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