Bio Thrillers for your Bookshelf
Do you like thrillers? So-called techno-thrillers have become a big thing lately – and a subset of them is the “bio thriller,” which focuses on pathogens. In other words, a plague story – but without zombies (unless scientifically explained, of course). Looking for a story where the world is decimated by superflu? Or where ecoterrorists try to destroy a major city with bioengineered polio?
Type of Story
Some of these stories are mysteries, some are disaster/apocalypse novels, all are deliciously scary and great to curl up with – and make you feel better about the fact that the only thing circulating in your neighborhood is that nasty cold. Here is a careful selection of awesome, well-rated bio thrillers to consider.
The Stand by Stephen King
1. The Stand by Stephen King. You can’t do a list of bio thrillers without listing the classic and possibly the founder of the genre – Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s a post-apocalyptic horror story about a superflu, and if you haven’t read it, you’ve missed one of the classics of all time. A reason why a story such as this remains timeless is due to the ever-present concern of a worldwide illness, such as the Wuhan Coronavirus epidemic concerns.
It’s also been turned into multiple movies and a comic book. Even if you haven’t read it, you’ve probably heard of it. Now for some less-known ideas.
Ill Wind by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason
2. Ill Wind by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason. Another disaster book, but in this case the pathogen doesn’t affect humans. After a huge oil spill, a company releases oil-eating bacteria – unaware that an eco-terrorist has made certain modifications. Meaning it’s eating oil…and everything made with oil… Definitely more disaster movie than save-the-world movie, it highlights our ridiculous dependency on oil (Oil-eating pathogens also feature in the background of Scott Westerfeld’s excellent post-apocalyptic YA series “Uglies” and in Amy Rogers’ Petrophage)
Deadly Savage by Dave Edlund
3. Deadly Savage by Dave Edlund. What if somebody grabs one of the last smallpox samples…and weaponizes it? We’ve mostly forgotten to be afraid of smallpox, but some people were concerned when random samples were found at an unsecured laboratory in Maryland – right next to the nation’s capital. This is a more traditional thriller, where the protagonist, Peter Savage, has to prevent the release of weaponized smallpox from a laboratory in Russia. Or very bad things happen. None of us are vaccinated against it anymore, after all.
Outbreak by Robin Cook
4. Outbreak by Robin Cook. This one was turned into a forgettable TV movie, but the book itself goes into an ebola outbreak…in the United States. And no, not just a couple of nurses who came back from Africa. With an ebola vaccine now available, this one might not be as frightening as when it was written in the early nineties, but it has disease, it has conspiracies, and an awesome female protagonist. Besides, there’s something to be said for a disease that makes you bleed from every orifice as a bad guy.
The Satan Bug by Ian Stuart
5. The Satan Bug by Ian Stuart. This is another old book – from the sixties – but in this case, technology has definitely not neutered the bad guy. Somebody steals botulism and genetically engineered poliovirus from a lab, and the latter is a virus that could rapidly destroy all human life on Earth. Of course, it’s an eco-terrorist, threatening the entire population of the country (apparently mad enough to kill themselves too). It’s a British book, so may have some differences from what the US will expect. And, of course, the ending is a bit of a twist. It also exists in the form of a “loosely adapted” movie from 1965.
There are, of course, plenty more bio thrillers out there, including some that focus on toxins rather than diseases (Neal Stephenson’s excellent Zodiac comes to mind). But these five are a good selection to start with if you want some scary medical-focused reading – and a reminder of why we really need to be careful with those smallpox vials.
If you’re curious about more disease-related dramas, check out our article on 5 virus movies that could’ve predicted the pandemic.