How's It Going To End? Six Ways Fiction Resolved Pandemic Plots

Every fictional plague has an origin story, and an ending — happy or otherwise. We hereby issue a pandemic spoiler alert!

From the movie Contagion (Soderbergh, 2011)
From the movie Contagion (Soderbergh, 2011)
Warner Bros
Laure Gautherin

From Homer to Hollywood, plagues make for great plot lines. Of course when it's happening in real life, in real-time, it's not so entertaining. Still, we wonder if there are any lessons we can take from these truer-than-fiction pieces of pandemic storytelling. Particularly for those less interested in the character development and moral takeaways from these fictional plague tales, we offer a quick peek into how the authors' decided it's all going to end. Predictions for the real-life plague?

Contagion, 2011. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, Written by Scott Z. Burns

Plot: A virus called MEV-1, originating from Hong Kong and inducing flu-like symptoms starts spreading around the globe at an alarming pace. It has a death rate of 20% to 30%, transmitted mostly through surfaces touched by sick people as well as coughing and sneezing. Health organizations strongly recommend social distancing and frequent hand-washing. Sounds VERY familiar.

How it ends: Officials from the CDC and the WHO are simultaneously and relentlessly working on a cure while trailing back its origin (bats, pigs). One scientist from CDC eventually finds the right formula for a vaccine and gets passed a long human-testing process by inoculating it to herself. It is distributed globally in a few months, but only after the virus has claimed 26 million lives.

Plot: Amid pandemic and American lockdown, the book by Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright offers a fair dose of shivers with its timely publishing date in April 2020, describing the worldwide mayhem caused by an hemorrhagic virus called Kongoli flu. Carried by both humans and birds, it appears in Indonesia, in an isolated refugee camp but is widely spread during the Mecca pilgrimage. What follows is similar though not identical to what we're witnessing today: alarming death rate (the virus has a 45% mortality rate), overwhelmed hospitals, rampaged grocery stores, cyberattacks, inadequate government responses, tensions between Russia, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iran, fears of World War III, and a collapsing economy. In the middle of this panic, we follow Henry Parsons, one of the world's greatest epidemiologists, and his race against the clock and the second wave predicted by the end of October to identify the virus and find a cure.

How it ends: The real origin of the virus is discovered (and conspiracy theorists will love the twist) and the protagonist eventually is on good tracks to find a vaccine. But the world seems like it will never fully recover.

My Secret Terrius, 2018. Netflix

Plot: In this Korean drama, a widow investigates the mysterious death of her husband and teams up with her neighbor, a former NIS black ops agent. They will unveil a huge conspiracy involving a bio-weapon: a coronavirus (note: this is the actual name given to a family of contagious viruses, including the flu) attacking the respiratory system and artificially transformed to reach a 90% mortality rate. Although the synopsis isn't focused around this man-made virus, one of the main characters' missions is to prevent its release.

How it ends: They succeed. Fortunately, because no vaccine has been found.

The Eyes of Darkness, 1981. Dean Koontz

Plot: After a group of boyhood friends die on a camping trip, the mother of one victim decides to investigate. More recent editions of the novel cite "Wuhan-400" a man-made bio-weapon with a 100% mortality rate, named after the city it originated from, quite a coincidence seeing as the origins of the current real-life coronavirus. However, in the original version of the novel, it was Gorki-400, and it originated on Russian soil. No surprise for a book released during the Cold War.

How it ends: The virus simply disappears without spreading worldwide and without a trace. Yep, just like that!

Le Monde Enfin, 1975-2004. Jean-Pierre Andrevon

Plot: The French science fiction writer has been cited as a visionary who predicted the COVID-19 scenario. Well, let's hope not! In this collection of novellas, we are witness to what the world is like after a lightning deadly virus "PISCRA" that can liquify cells has wiped out most of humankind. The rest of the species remains unaffected, and Nature slowly takes back its rightful place. This idea of humans going extinct is a favorite of writers, mostly using it in a Darwinist metaphor for new species to take over or to convey an ecological message. Both of these echoes have found a place in the current crisis and Andrevon's description of Nature taking back over from humans reminds us of the numerous apparitions of animals in cities and now deserted spots because of lockdowns around the world.

How it ends: Everybody dies.

The Simpsons, "Marge in Chains," 1993.

Plot: The Simpsons have been called the fortune-tellers of pop culture. They were credited with predicting the election of Donald Trump, and more recently with the COVID-19 outbreak. In an episode dating back to 1993, an airborne virus coming from Japan and named the "Osaka Flu", strikes Springfield's residents. The city faces an economic crisis, however not because of the epidemic but because Marge ends up in prison and cannot take part in the bake sale fundraiser.

How it ends: Everyone recovers (+cookies).

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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