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Open Books

The Data (are books)

We curated the dataset, which is made up of literary texts, from the last 2500 years of pandemic literature. We chose to use literary texts because we're interested in the narrative elements that constitute a story. We didn't use every text about pandemics that we could find either. That might be the work of future iterations of this project. Who knows.
For now, these are the texts that contributed to the dataset for The Sound of Contagion. 

Oedipus Rex


This Athenian tragedy takes place after the events of Oedipus' fated incest and patricide. A plague ravages Thebes, and Oedipus must find Laius' murderer to end it, not suspecting that he is the culprit. 

429 BCE

The Decameron

Giovanni Boccaccio

The Decameron is a frame-story for one hundred short tales ostensibly shared by ten Florentines holed up in a villa outside Florence to escape the Black Plague in the 14th century.


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A Journal of The Plague Year

Daniel Defoe

Defoe's classic of the pandemic genre charts the plague's progress through London in 1665, when
97 000 Londoners died. Defoe was five years old at the time and uses other's stories as well as his childhood memories to write the 'journal'.



The Last Man

Mary Shelley

Shelley's The Last Man is one of the first apocalypse novels written by a woman, we believe while she was mourning the death of her husband. The novel follows a band of survivors trying to evade a global plague that wipes out the human species.


the last man.jpg

The Masque of the Red Death

Edgar Allen Poe

Poe wrote this story about a group of wealthy noblemen who attempt to avoid the plague by hiding away in a hedonist château, but the plague visits them in the form of the Red Death nevertheless. 


The Scarlet Plague

Jack London

Better known for his nature novels White Fang and The Call of the Wild, Jack London set this post-apocalyptic novel in 2073 after a global plague depopulates the planet. The Red Death leaves few alive and many intellectually stunted. 


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The Andromeda Strain

Michael Crichton

This turn in the data set towards the potential consequences of space exploration recognises not only America's emergence as a super power following WWII but also Cold War-era fascination in life beyond earth and technological development. Crichton's seminal novel explores the effects of a plague brought to Earth by space probes.


The Plague

Albert Camus

Camus' allegory for France's Nazi occupation during WWII presents varied responses to a plague that threatens the townspeople of Oran, exploring how fear and isolation function to paralyse the town's citizens.



The Stand

Stephen King

Stephen King's classic epic takes scientific disaster to its (un)natural conclusion as a weaponised flu kills off most of the world's population. This is King's longest stand-alone novel and at 1152 pages long skews the data set in interesting ways as it's much longer than many of the other texts combined.


Journals of the Plague Years

Norman Spinrad

Not to be confused with Defoe's classic, Spinrad's satire of the AIDS crisis follows the paths of four people as they attempt to negotiate quarantine, safe-sex machines, and the advent of Sex Police, while the world tips between sexual anarchy and militarised control.




Nicola Griffith

The Jeep virus threatens the colonising Earth humans who 'go native' if they cease to take the vaccine. The heroine becomes like the people on the colonised planet, joining a completely female and therefore matriarchal society. This is the first of the far-future texts in the data set, if we consider Crichton's a speculative near-future novel.



José Saramago

Saramago is a noted Portuguese author, and the inclusion of Blindness in our dataset raises questions of translation. In the novel, translated into English in 1997, an unnamed town is afflicted by a blindness pandemic which results in social collapse and anarchic violence.



Illustration by Narciso Espiritu Jr.

Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood

Atwood's insistence upon her work as speculative rather than science fiction upon the publication of Oryx and Crake threw the science fiction community into frenzied debate. This novel explores how a bio-engineered pandemic supports an evil-mastermind plot to experiment with natures laws in a late-stage capitalist corporate-governed society.

2003 AD

The Children's Hospital

Chris Adrian

Adrian's lesser known novel explores a Noah's Ark like experiment in which the world is flooded, a hospital becomes a floating ark, and a plague called the Botch is released.  

2006 AD

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Transmigration of Bodies

Yuri Herrera

Written and published in Spanish in 2013 and translated into English in 2016, The Transmigration of Bodies explores gang violence in an unnamed Mexican town in the midst of an epidemic spread through insects and bodily fluids.

2013 AD

Station Eleven

Emily St. John Mandel

A pandemic known as the Georgia Flu affects and kills 99% of the global population. The novel switches back and forth in time between the early days of the flu's effects and twenty years in the future in which a lone band of thespian survivors travel the Great Lakes area struggling to make good on their motto: 'Survival is Insufficient.'

2014 CE



Deon Meyer

Originally published in Afrikaans in 2016 and translated into English in 2017, South African crime writer Deon Meyer's post-apocalypse novel Fever explores the aftermath of a bio-engineered disease. The fever's makers work on a Thanos-esque population control ideology, and kill off a majority of human life, prompting the male survivalist fantasy of the novel.

2016 AD

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Find Me

Laura van den Berg

An Ebola-like epidemic prompts a mass-quarantine of victims in La Harpe, Kansas. The disease causes blisters followed by a loss of memory. The novel is concentrated on the concept of mining memory and the role of memory in cultural production. 

2014 AD


The Book of M

Peng Shepherd

Another pandemic of memory loss novel, The Book of M follows a married couple hiding out while anarchy breaks out around them. The effect of the disease is the loss of one's shadow, and then memory, with the concomitant ability to transmute random objects into weapons. 

2018 CE


Ling Ma

Critically-acclaimed, Ling Ma's Severance is part-zombie-novel, part-pandemic novel. The infected become repetitive automatons until they pass away or are killed, and society breaks down as a lone new York photographer tries to find meaning and purpose at the end of the world. 




Lauren Beukes

Speculative writer Lauren Beukes imagines a world devoid of men following a global flu that leaves almost all people possessing a Y chromosome with a prostate cancer-causing virus. With 99% of the male population gone, one woman and her virus resistant son go on the run from the US military and her bounty-hunting sister, hoping to escape America via boat for the safety of South Africa.


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