4 Contagious Tales of Biological Warfare


Pic: detail from the cover of A Higher Form of Killing by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman/Penguin Random House ©

Recently, one of our readers reached out with a request for a round-up of novels featuring acts of biological warfare and bioterrorism. I’m all too happy to oblige, given my own morbid interest in, and fear of, biological weapons. (Read A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman if you’re looking for a new reason to lie awake at night.)

I used a very specific list of parameters when I was choosing the books for this list. The first was that none of the books could involve zombies. At this point, zombie apocalypses are their own genre, and I’ve already written one round-up on the topic. The second was that the infectious agent had to be truly biological in origin: no magic spells, for example. The third was that it had to have been created as a weapon, even if it was deployed by accident. That ruled out bugs initially created to cure other diseases, among other things. The fourth parameter was that the pathogen had to be lethal, or pretty close to it. The fifth that the book couldn’t be a thinly fictionalized survival manual or prepper guide. The sixth and final was that any book on the list had to be in print in one form or another.

As you can imagine, these parameters narrowed things down a good bit. Here’s what was left. Do you have any suggestions? Were there any titles I missed? Share them in the comment section below!


by James Herbert

In the last moments of World War II, a defeated Adolf Hitler bombs Britain with a biological weapon known as the Blood Death. Most of the people who come into contact with the Death die immediately, but some linger on for years before succumbing to the disease. A very few are immune, among them a downed Ally pilot. Surviving the disease is just the beginning, though: There’s a group of infected Nazis who believe that the blood of the immune offers a cure, and they’re out to get it any way that they can. Look for this one next week!


Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood

Sometime in an apocalyptic future a tribe of biologically engineered creatures gather around the world’s last human being, the only survivor of a great plague. They listen as he shares stories of the world before: one of technology run amok, vicious greed, and environmental destruction. This intensely ambitious novel is volume one of the MaddAdam trilogy, a modern classic not to be missed.


The Stand
by Stephen King

Over 99% of the world’s population dies after a strain of the influenza virus escapes a U.S. Army biological weapon program. The very few who are left alive are faced with the challenge of rebuilding the world. What they don’t know is that someone — or something — is preparing to finish what the super flu didn’t. Holy crap, is this a creepy read. This was the very first Stephen King book I ever read, and it pretty much burned a hole in my brain. If you’re interested in apocalyptic literature, then this is a must-read.


The White Plague
by Frank Herbert

After losing his wife and children in a terrorist attack, a scientist creates an infectious disease that is lethal to women and carried without symptoms by men. He then releases the disease in the nations he believes were responsible for the terrorist attack that destroyed his life, but it doesn’t stay there. Chaos ensues as the last uninfected nations desperately struggle to contain the disease.