Prophetic novel The Scarlet Plague was written 100 years ago. It is one of the first dystopias in the history of the literature and one of the most famous works of Jack London, published in London Magazine in 1912.
Now the plot of the novel seems quite straightforward. At the beginning of XXI century the world is hit by an epidemic of a mysterious disease. People die in one day, and only one million manages to survive. Civilization is lost in a matter of days. The scene is set 60 years after the events.
The main character is an old man, who is sitting on a wild coast near San Francisco and is telling his grandsons of the days when the former world died. The most amazing thing in the work is that Jack London described the world of the early XXI century with the striking precision.
The old man manifested an accustomed chagrin as he brought the coin back again close to his own eyes.
“2012,” he shrilled, and then fell to cackling grotesquely. “That was the year Morgan the Fifth was appointed President of the United States by the Board of Magnates. It must have been one of the last coins minted, for the Scarlet Death came in 2013. Lord! Lord!—think of it! Sixty years ago, and I am the only person alive to-day that lived in those times. Where did you find it, Edwin?”
As you know, in November 2012 the U.S presidential election will take place. Supporters of various conspiracy theories have long argued that the United States, as well as the whole world, is secretly governed by a handful of financiers and politicians. This is the so-called private Bohemian Club, which is presented by almost all the financial and political elite of the United States. The club is located in a private property near San Francisco. Once a year, all the “bohemians” gather there, and no one knows what exactly they do. Officially, they go on vacation, but many believe that they solve important problems of world politics.
The world was full of people. The census of 2010 gave eight billions for the whole world—eight crab-shells, yes, eight billions. It was not like to-day. Mankind knew a great deal more about getting food. And the more food there was, the more people there were. <…> Eight crab-shells there, yes, eight billion people were alive on the earth when the Scarlet Death began.
Jack London was not far from the truth: at the beginning of September 2012, according to the UN, the world population numbered about 7 billion 100 thousand people. Given the fact that at the time of the writer there were only about 1.6 billion people on the planet, he was a good prophet.
It was in the summer of 2013 that the Plague came. I was twenty-seven years old, and well do I remember it. Wireless despatches—”
Hare-Lip spat loudly his disgust, and Granser hastened to make amends.
“We talked through the air in those days, thousands and thousands of miles. And the word came of a strange disease that had broken out in New York. There were seventeen millions of people living then in that noblest city of America. Nobody thought anything about the news. It was only a small thing. There had been only a few deaths. It seemed, though, that they had died very quickly, and that one of the first signs of the disease was the turning red of the face and all the body. Within twenty-four hours came the report of the first case in Chicago.
There are several predictions in this passage. First, in the words of the old man we can see a mention of cellular or satellite communications. Then his words about the population of New York City: the writer believes that it numbered 17 million people. In fact, today the Big Apple and its suburbs numbers 18.8 million people. And most important thing – the disease. Symptoms of “scarlet plague” are much like symptoms of Ebola fever. The virus was discovered in 1976 in the Congo. Its mortality rate is up to 90%. There were several outbreaks of the disease (the last time was last week, when 31 people died in Congo). One of the first symptoms is a fine red-pink rash on the body. Till now, there is no vaccine against Ebola.
… And a few more predictions
I was alone in my big house. As I have told you often before, in those days we could talk with one another over wires or through the air. The telephone bell rang, and I found my brother talking to me.
It seems that once again the author mentions mobile communication.
For twenty-four hours, he said, no transatlantic airships had arrived, and no more messages were coming from England.
15 years after the novel was written (1912), the first flight across the Atlantic was made. A regular passenger service between the continents was established after World War II.
Not everything is lost?
In the “Scarlet Plague” Jack London paints a grim bloody picture of a feral world. However, the author shows optimism and faith in human potential. He argues that human will rise up and subdue nature once again.
We, who mastered the planet—its earth, and sea, and sky—and who were as very gods, now live in primitive savagery along the water courses of this California country.
“But we are increasing rapidly—your sister, Hare-Lip, already has four children. We are increasing rapidly and making ready for a new climb toward civilization. In time, pressure of population will compel us to spread out, and a hundred generations from now we may expect our descendants to start across the Sierras, oozing slowly along, generation by generation, over the great continent to the colonization of the East—a new Aryan drift around the world.