I don’t read a lot of sci-fi. Not that I don’t enjoy it, but it’s just not a genre that’s a priority of mine (although I feel like that might be changing). As a genre that often takes place in the future, I always found it so eerie to read about pandemics. In the pieces I have read recently, it’s mostly just mentioned in side notes. For example in one of the stories in Ted Chiang’s Exhalation, a storyline that takes place over several years mentions that global economy being disrupted for a while due to the newest flu pandemic. It happens in movies as well: in Children of Men (I know it’s based on a book but I haven’t read that one yet), the main character mentions he has lost his son in a pandemic (flu as well).
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, these kind of scenes seemed scary to me, but also kind of unrealistic. We knew pandemics were a big risk for the future, but I figured, once the time has come we’ll have found a solution. It seemed to me to be something that would not happen for 30 years. But now the time has come and we’ve been in this pandemic for over a year, and the way these science-fiction and dystopian stories handle this theme makes me reconsider my own way of coping with the pandemic.
I’m quite serious about not wanting to get ill. Before Covid, I wasn’t much of a hypochondriac, but this disease scares me a bit more. The fact that it’s both an infectious disease and quite common and it could have long term consequence makes it different to me than for example cancer (not infectious), polio (not common) or the flu (no problematic consequences). I’m excited that I’m finally getting vaccinated (already got my first shot, still waiting for the second one), but the Delta variant is making things more complicated, and it’s not clear to me yet how safe I would be from getting long covid. As someone without a steady job, long covid would be disastrous for my income and my career, and I’m scared about the impact on my mental health. I have suffered from depression before and it is not uncommon for a chronic physical disease to trigger episodes of mental illness as well.
But these stories that mention pandemics give me another perspective. In those stories, the pandemics are just backstories. Of course, with heavy consequences, but the future is not just a pandemic-ridden wasteland. There will come a point where I will have to cease being so careful, and just start hugging my friends again. I’m just not really sure when that moment is. I’m also so scared of getting someone ill (I wouldn’t want that on my conscience), that it’s difficult to start taking those risks for myself. After all, if it goes wrong it might end up hurting others as well. I’m wondering how much of these issues we’re gonna see represented in literature and movies in the next few years.