Thursday, April 27, 2017

Throwback Thursday: The Jakarta Pandemic

The Jakarta Pandemic by Steven Konkoly is one of the scariest non-zombie apocalyptic stories that I've read in a long time. I think what disturbed me the most was how absolutely plausible this story is - the CDC ought to be worried about this situation rather than zombies because I've already seen many of the scenarios in this book played out after a natural disaster has struck an area, so it did not require a stretch of the imagination.

The prologue begins with Alex Fletcher "lying under a neighbor's play set in a blizzard, eagerly waiting to kill," and wondering how his neighborhood had devolved so rapidly. The story is then divided into three main sections: Arrival, Quarantine, and Survival. The Jakarta Pandemic is NOT about the infected, the nature of the virus, or how the outbreak occurs. Alex tells the story of how society falls apart in less than five months - from his perspective as a pharmaceutical sales rep and former marine, with neighbors turning against one another when food supplies and medicine become scarce. Konkoly emphasizes throughout the book how disbelief and denial can do more damage than the actual virus.

In Arrival, beginning Friday, November 2, 2013, Alex receives a phone call from the Maine Medical Center confirming the first cases of a new pandemic flu, initially called the Hong Kong Flu, and mainly confined to the Asian community. At first, it's not clear who Alex is, what he does for a living, or where he is located (Scarborough, Maine), until the second chapter. I think his profession should have been revealed right away, to explain the heavy emphasis on the medical aspect of the flu.

In Quarantine, which begins on Monday, November 5, 2013, several of Alex's neighbors have contracted what is eventually called The Jakarta Flu (after the true epicenter is discovered), but they remain completely ignorant about the ease of spreading the virus. When all the stores close down because of empty warehouses, some of the neighbors want to pool resources, including signing up for a babysitting schedule, and carpooling to the hospital. After Alex and some others wisely quarantine themselves within their homes, people attempt breaking in and stealing supplies, while others form violent mobs which demand access to their neighbors' emergency provisions.

In Survival, less than a month from the initial outbreaks, people from other areas begin invading Alex's neighborhood and squatting in the abandoned houses. By Saturday, December 15, 2013, several shootouts take place, with people killing each other over anything and everything. Many people believe that those who have not fallen ill are hoarding miracle vaccines. It's not until Sunday, March 31, 2014 that The Jakarta Pandemic has run its course, and Alex describes the wreckage his once-happy neighborhood has become.

Konkoly masterfully crafts a sad story of people that slowly realize how a few unfortunate decisions can easily destroy entire families and communities, without the need for monsters or supernatural events. The Jakarta Pandemic has a sinister quality, highlighted by disturbing examples of the psyche under incredible duress. After reading this, you'll never look at your neighbors the same way again.

As always,


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