It’s Not a Cold: 5 Apocalyptic Stories Featuring Killer Influenza


Influenza is a scary disease. It mutates regularly, spreads easily, and regularly kills tens of thousands of Americans every year — and that’s just the regular flu. What if Mother Earth’s petri dish spits out a super-lethal flu virus? It has happened before.

Back in 1918, the Spanish Flu infected roughly one-third of the world’s population and killed somewhere between 20 and 50 million people. (Gina Kolata’s Flu is one of my favorite books on the topic. The Great Influenza is good, too.) Something similar to it — or worse — could strike any year. What might that look like? Here are five authors who dared to imagine the worst.

  • The cover of the book The Stand

    The Stand

    The Stand is the very first book that introduced me to the idea of a “super flu”. In King’s work, the virus — nicknamed “Captain Trips” — is a genetically engineered bioweapon that escapes a military lab and quickly spreads throughout America. Once the American government realizes that the country is lost, they dispatch agents to spread it around the rest of the globe. Most of the world’s population dies off, and the plague’s few survivors are drafted into a final, apocalyptic battle between the forces of good and evil.

  • The cover of the book The Doomsday Book

    The Doomsday Book

    In 21st century London, time travel has made it possible for historians to travel back in time to conduct field research. The technology isn’t perfect, though. When academic Kivrin Engle departs for a trip to medieval England, she overshoots her destination and arrives during the first days of the Black Plague. Meanwhile, during her own time, a deadly flu virus is sweeping through the city and leaving bodies in its wake. Willis’ book alternates between the past and the present, finding points of comparison between both plagues and the people they affect.

  • The cover of the book Station Eleven

    Station Eleven

    Twenty years ago a new flu virus struck without warning, bringing civilization to a halt within weeks. Now, in a quasi-medieval future, Kirsten Raymond is an entertainer in a traveling troupe of actors and musicians committed to keeping humanity’s cultural legacy alive. Unfortunately, not everyone holds such high ideals, among them a self-styled “prophet” whose teachings bring the future of the troupe into question.

  • The cover of the book The Dog Stars

    The Dog Stars

    Everyone that Hig knows died in the great flu pandemic — everyone except his loyal dog, Jasper, and a gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley. Hig had long given up hope of hearing another human voice again on the day that he picked up part of a radio transmission on his Cessna’s radio. Hopeful again that some part of civilization has survived, he sets out on a one-way trip into the direction of that broadcast. What will he find when — and if — he gets there?

  • The cover of the book Salvation City

    Salvation City

    America has fallen to the flu, and thirteen year-old Cole is one of many children orphaned by the ravages of the disease. After being adopted by an evangelical couple, Cole struggles to reconcile his new life with the horrors of the past.