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The Boston Globe

Ideas

Jack London’s plague of 2013

A century ago, an American writer imagined the troubles to come.

Here’s what will happen in 2013: The new disease will emerge over the summer, with reports first coming from New York City. A day later, word will come from other cities—Chicago, London—of similar cases. The symptoms: increased heart rate and fever, a fast-moving red rash, and a creeping numbness, beginning at the feet and gradually overtaking the heart. Once the symptoms appear, death comes in a matter of hours, even minutes.

In the cities, order will break down along class lines, the working class turning on the rich. The escape of the wealthy, by car and by air, will merely spread the disease faster. By the end of the year, civilization will have collapsed. The few survivors—one out of every million people, if that—will flee into rural areas, to eke out a primitive existence.

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