Sakyo Komatsu | Virus: The Day of Resurrection (VIZ Media/Haikasoru)

Over two-thirds of the book are spent telling the story of the dead and the dying, introducing and then killing his characters over the course of a few pages until it felt like you were reading an obituary while the more important characters watched from a safe distance.

 

 

$25.99 (Hardcover), 312 pages
 
When I’m looking through older fiction publications, there’s always been something particularly fascinating to me about the post-apocalyptic and dystopian epics. They’re interesting because a few to several decades before I walked by that bookshelf, some author sat down and asked themselves, “How is our world going to end?” Whether their focus is the end of a country, a society, or even humanity as a whole, each author approaches the question through the lens of the times they lived in. Will Big Brother crush the spirits of mankind like in 1984? Will the Mayan prophecy come true and rend our world to ashes like in 2012? Or perhaps, just perhaps, will the world end not by the hand of man or god, but by the planet’s smallest living organism? The latter was a question posed fifty years ago by Sakyo Komatsu in his book Virus: The Day of Resurrection.
 
Although originally published in 1964, this book was recently translated into English for a whole new culture and generation of readers. As many apocalyptic books do, Virus starts by opening the readers’ eyes to a bleak vision of the future filled with the bodies of the foolish and the fallen. Each life is brought down by a virus so ancient and so lethal that by the time the world truly comprehends what is happening, they are already beyond saving. Keeping with classic apocalypse tropes, a few survivors remain, in this case a large, international group of researchers stationed in Antarctica when the virus struck. As this group grapples with the reality of their situation, they discover that, while the enmity between nations has effectively been wiped out, the weapons resulting from that enmity were not. Suddenly the fragile remains of the world’s population find themselves strapped to a bomb wired to a dead man’s switch, and the only way to disarm it is to journey into the no-man’s land that is the United States.
 
Keeping in my mind the temporal distance between when Komatsu wrote this and today, I was amazed by how many echoes there were to events of recent history. Over the course of the novel, Komatsu effectively predicted the upcoming outbreaks of swine and avian flu before the world ever considered them a possibility of becoming pandemics. The final obstacle for the book, a nuclear meltdown, takes place because of an unattended nuclear base being hit by a major earthquake, reminiscent of consequences of the tsunami in Tokyo. It is a fine example of how science fiction can become science future.
 
As I continued to delve into the story, however, many of these echoes and the disasters Komatsu predicted slowly lost their appeal as they are weighed down with antimilitary rhetoric. Komatsu’s lectures on the evils of nuclear and germ warfare become less and less veiled, sometimes going so far as to forgo speaking through his characters and addressing the reader directly through long-winded expository narrative passages.
 
It also became clear that Komatsu was more interested in the moral of his story than the story itself. Over two-thirds of the book are spent telling the story of the dead and the dying, introducing and then killing his characters over the course of a few pages until it felt like you were reading an obituary while the more important characters watched from a safe distance. Meanwhile, the nuclear threat, which had been advertised as one of the major plot points of the book, isn’t addressed until the final fifteen pages of the novel, by which point I had effectively ceased to care.
 
Unlike 1984, Walking Dead, or even The Hunger Games, Virus isn’t a book you read if you’re in the mood for adventure or human drama. However, if you enjoy a little political rhetoric with some fifty-year-old scientific discussion of viruses and biological warfare, this is a smart read that gives you an untouched window into the hopes and fears of yesteryear. | Brent Mueller

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