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Writing a Fictional Future: The End of October

15 May


end of october

image from eBCCLS

Pandemic worst case scenario: An individual, infected with a highly transmittable and potentially fatal disease at a densely populated location. Say an airport. Or say a sports event like a football game. Or something worse, because of the international composition of the crowds, who have the potential to carry that illness back when they return to their countries of origin, like the hadjj, in Mecca, where Muslim pilgrims converge to worship in a sort of controlled chaos that brings together some three million humans. That’s exactly what happens in Lawrence Wright’s new thriller, The End of October.


Okay, so if that’s just too much for you to handle, even fictionally, given the state of the world right now, stop reading this review, and don’t even consider reading the book. If you care to be amazed by the prescient nature of the novel written before we had even heard of the city of Wuhan, and to get a crash course in the science underlying concepts that have rewritten life as we know it, get this book.

For the record, a NPR interview with Wright says he began writing the book in 2017, and submitted his final version at the end of 2019.

Lawrence Wright has done his homework and shares a lot of the background as he writes about an epidemiologist, Henry Parsons, who gets caught up in investigating a new influenza-like disease that comes out of nowhere and threatens to wipe out civilization. Henry, for his part, just wants to contain the epic problem and get back to his family.

So you will learn about various types of influenza, the history of vaccinations, some medical breakthroughs. All good stuff. But the chilliest and horror-like similarities to our current crisis pop up in droves: ventilator shortages, the vice president appointed as the point person for the pandemic, economic closures wrecking havoc on the lives of millions of people. Every time I heard the phrase “nobody could have seen this coming” on the news I think of this book and the research that led to it and give credit to Wright for seeing writing on the wall, and connecting the dots. 

Which is not to say that all the parts align precisely and you should keep turning the pages to find out how this all plays out in real life. There are significant differences such as who are the fictional baddies. 

Be prepared to keep turning pages quickly. And remember, and keep telling yourself, this book is fiction.

This title is available on eBCCLS.  You can see all of our great eBook options on our website here.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

Friday Writing Prompt
Research a topic of interest and write about a fictional version of it.  This could be about a pandemic like Wright’s, but it could also be on a topic like Artificial Intelligence and how it will effect our future.  No one says the future has to be bleak though, maybe your vision of the future could be more idealistic, think Star Trek.  Use your research as a jumping off point and then think of the type of characters who you want to feature in your story.  Are they everyday people who are being impacted by what is occurring or are they a scientist or politician instrumental in making decisions that will shape the direction of society?  Does the main conflict come from what is occurring or does this event simply form a backdrop for a romance or mystery?

If you are interested in writing your own personal story about your experience during the pandemic you can learn more about our history project here.

Written by
Aimee Harris
Head of Reference


Quirky Characters, a Charming Setting and Topical Issues: Louise Penny’s A Better Man

4 May

A Better Man
Take a small rural Canadian village. A bistro serving almond croissants and café au lait. A quirky cast of core characters, with a few new faces mixed in each new book of the series.

Mix in some current topical issues, in this case the effects of environmental change, social media reality and the how impressions can be shaped there by anonymity, doctored videos and the viral nature of opinions. Add other dark aspects of life, like violence against women.

What you get is a somewhat cozy mystery with enough rough reality mixed in that you won’t gag from the sweetness.

It’s a formula that is repeated throughout this now 15 book long series. Armand Gamache, an officer of the Surete du Quebec lives with his extended family in the (fictional) village of Three Pines in Quebec. He deals with various crimes (a rather shocking amount, for such a backwater) as well as issues within the Surete du Quebec. He carries the baggage of decisions he has made in his career in each new book. In this one, he is looking into the disappearance of a woman known to have been abused by her husband. He is helped by his son-in-law Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and other Surete agents that have appeared in previous books in the series.

I hesitate to make the suggestion, because it is a rather substantial reading commitment, but it really is best to read the series in order. There is enough explanation of the backstories of the major plot developments to get you through each book as a stand-alone, but your enjoyment will be deeper for seeing characters develop over time. Penny doesn’t pull any punches. She is not afraid to write main characters out of the script or involve plot twists that will shock you.

A list of the series in order from the first to the most recent is: Still Life, A Fatal Grace/Dead Cold (same book, different title), The Cruelest Month, A Rule Against Murder/The Murder Stone (same book, different title), The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead, A Trick of the Light, The Beautiful Mystery, How the Light Gets In, The Long Way Home, The Nature of the Beast, A Great Reckoning, Glass Houses, Kingdom of the Blind, and A Better Man.  You can find them as ebooks and/or digital audiobooks to checkout from eLibraryNJ, eBCCLS, and Hoopla.

If you require s bit more convincing, take a look at Louise Penny’s web site, which features reviews and more describing the books in detail.

What I enjoy about the series is the morality of Armand Gamache and the plotting that keeps each book both familiar and surprising. And the food! The characters frequently indulge in food and drink at the bistro or at get-togethers at the villagers’ homes that sound awesome.

Written by:
Victoria Turk
Reference Librarian

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