The White Plague (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
Frank Herbert, author of the best-selling Dune series, is primarily known as a writer of science fiction. In The White Plague, he mixes genres; taking off from a science-fiction premise, he employs the conventions of the thriller to engage the reader while he delivers opinions on a wide range of topical issues, from the civil conflict in Northern Ireland to the godlike powers of modern science.
The novel’s thriller plot is set in motion when John Roe O’Neill, an American of Irish descent and a world-class molecular biologist, witnesses the wanton killing of his wife and children as an IRA-planted car-bomb explodes in Dublin. Maddened with grief at the senseless killing of his family, O’Neill creates a deadly virus which has the effect of killing virtually all the women on earth.
This science-fiction device serves Herbert well: “What would happen if. . . ?” he asks, and then proceeds to suggest several answers—few of them reassuring. Riots ensue, great areas of various countries are cordoned off to prevent the spread of the virus, and near-anarchy reigns in many areas of the world. Some renascent Luddite antiscientism results in the killing of scientists, for O’Neill has sent several public letters admitting his responsibility for the plague. World powers intrigue to be the first to find a cure for the plague; vast...
(The entire section is 1062 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 1983)
Booklist. LXXVIII, July, 1982, p. 1394.
Library Journal. CVII, August, 1982, p. 1480.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. September 19, 1982, p. 2.
New Age. VIII, October, 1982, p. 66.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, September 26, 1982, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXII, July 9, 1982, p. 44.
Time. CXX, November 15, 1982, p. 93.
(The entire section is 39 words.)