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The White Plague [Hardcover]

3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1991
What if women were an endangered species?

It begins in Ireland, but soon spreads throughout the entire world: a virulent new disease expressly designed to target only women. As fully half of the human race dies off at a frightening pace and life on Earth faces extinction, panicked people and governments struggle to cope with the global crisis. Infected areas are quarantined or burned to the ground. The few surviving women are locked away in hidden reserves, while frantic doctors and scientists race to find a cure. Anarchy and violence consume the planet.

The plague is the work of a solitary individual who calls himself the Madman. As government security forces feverishly hunt for the renegade scientist, he wanders incognito through a world that will never be the same. Society, religion, and morality are all irrevocably transformed by the White Plague.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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"A tale of awesome revenge."--The Cincinnati Enquirer on The White Plague

"A speculative intellect with few rivals in modern SF."--The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Frank Herbert is the author of the 1965 science fiction classic, Dune. He passed away in 1986.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The White Plague Sept. 16 2011
Herbert is best known for his Dune novels. This one, set mostly in Ireland, is a slightly different meal. An American biologist, John Roe O'Neill, witnesses the murder by car bomb of his wife and twin daughters. In a rage, O'Neill sets out to wreak revenge not just on Irish terrorists, but the entire planet, especially the men. He creates a special virus that in effect produces a plague of unique proportions: it kills any women who are exposed to it, but leaves the men alive and healthy. A gender-bender of a conflagration. The entire political landscape of earth is upset, as well as the economy, the security and the temperament of everybody. O'Neill, calling himself the Madman, watches and sneaks about as the revenge spreads everywhere. But he is captured by fundamental Irish rebels and asked to help find a cure. By this time, he has a definite split personality, the old O'Neill burying itself inside the new man who is slowly going insane.

The top scientists give it their best shot at finding a cure for this plague, and it means that some unusual co-operation is required. Cultural relationships and international trust will never be the same again. Herbert has skillfully portrayed a very realistic scenario of worldwide terrorism tactics and the aftermath of it all. It is possible, he argues, that one person, in a fit of personal rage, could afflict the whole planet like this. It is possible, he further prophesizes, for humankind to extricate itself from such a huge disaster only by supreme co-operation and a new trust. But Herbert also shows us here how mankind rarely trusts on that scale, and the fact that political instability lead to the plague in the first place, by putting someone like the Irish terrorist Joseph Herrity into the path of O'Neill.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Timely May 29 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Frank Herbert is one of my favorite authors, and this book is a major reason why. The plot is briskly-paced, well written, and touches many of the most troubling issues of our time.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too many ideas, not enough control June 27 2004
Herbert's novel shows an impressive grasp of Irish lore, and he integrates, rather clumsily, historical archetypes (Mad Sweeney, Diarmuid and Devorgilla, the Fianna, rebels and crazed visionaries galore) into his story. (By the way, he never explains what the "Finn Sadal" stands for in their name, but Fenian and "sadall"--Irish for animal or "squat person" seems apt!) He also over-estimates the power of the Church, and attributes to it a confused mixture of irrelevance and dominance. The whole papal subplot seems to veer off wildly and seems forgotten. The trek across Ireland slows the plot, and what all the quotes from fictional and real people have to do with the chapters gains no clarification. A recommended updating of the genetic code-meets-Irish terrorism angle is Henry Porter's novel "Remembrance Day," about two decades later on the political and scientific front, if before the breaking of the genome.
Reading Herbert reminds me that so much of SF depends more on the excitement of ideas at the expense of satisfying characterisation. Too much of the story's wasted on superfluous people, names, descriptions, backgrounds which matter little. Prominently featured scientists trying to find the cure, for example, get attention early on but then are relegated to barely a mention; horrendously stereotypical "stage Oirish" dialogue by cardboard IRA men undercuts genuinely ambitious attempts by Herbert to analyse terrorist thinking. You get little sense of what "ordinary" folks suffered in the world of "Panic Fires" and mass barricades, or how goods (and weapons) would have been traded and daily life would have stumbled on.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  51 reviews
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Science Fiction, Deserves to be in Print Sept. 17 2002
By 718 Session - Published on
If you're looking for another "Dune", be warned: This book takes place on Earth, albiet an Earth that is about to go through some huge changes.
Our story opens with the death of the wife and children of brilliant biochemical researcher John O'Neill at the hands of terrorists. O'Neil is driven mad with grief and unleashes a biochemically engineered plague on the world, one that is 100% fatal to women.
While not Herbert's best book, it is still fantastic. Frank paints a horrific picture of governments racing first against each other to be the first to find a cure, and soon realilsing that a cure will only come with cooperation. Each country deals with the plague differently and the sweep of the story stretches around the world and back to the beginning as O'Neil admires his handiwork.
The story is quite action driven for a Herbert book. With most women dying off, the planet soon becomes unrecognizable. Will a cure be found in time? What form will it take? How will humanity survive? Herbert's trademark philosophical ruminations are there, just below the surface for plucking if you're interested. I will say, though, that the irony of thousand-year-old cultures having to re-write themselves overnight in the name of survival wasn't lost on me.
Even more tantalizing is the ending which will leave you wondering what will happen next. Not that there's a cliffhanger, but the world is so different you imagine a sequal would have done very well.
This is a really good book. It may drag a bit in spots and some of the science involved is a bit dated, but it is still very enjoyable. There's something wrong when a book as good as this one written by a author as popular as Herbert is out of print. Surely there must be some publishing company out there willing to cash in on the writings of a man whose works have been brought to the screen twice (soon to be three times, with "Children of Dune"). Anyone?
Until that happens, pick up a copy at a used bookstore. You won't regret it.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Readable April 18 2005
By Russell C. Longmire - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I read the first 5 reviews before writing this. I read this book quite some time ago and thought it was great. I waded through the original "Dune" and thought that this book was much more readable. I read all the criticism written about this book and I will tell you this. I leant this book to 5 different people and each of them read it straight through and could hardly put it down (myself included). Now I ask you, does that sound like an over rated book or a good book. I thought the book was very literary with one of the main characters being a catholic priest. The story is set in Ireland and has a strong Irish flavor. I have read a number of books by this author, I thought this story was one of his best!
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A chilling story of loss and revenge gone amuck May 22 2000
By Alan R. Holyoak - Published on
Herbert weaves a wonderfully chilling tale of loss and revenge in this biotech centered sci-fi offering.
In the book, the main character (a molecular biologist) loses his wife to a random terrorist bombing in Ireland. Fed up with the endless violence and loss of innocent life due to chronic IRA-British conflicts in Ireland, the scientist uses methods of genetic engineering to develop a virus that he plans to release in Ireland. He sends notice to the world of his intentions, and releases the virus.
The virus kills only women. Ireland is devastated, but, of course, the virus escapes and the white plague becomes a pandemic.
The technology certainly exists to develop genetically engineered viral vectors (i.e., viruses that carry genetically engineered DNA or RNA). Is such a plague possible? Technically, yes. That's what makes the tale so chilling.
The spread of the disease in the book and efforts to protect uninfected women are described as effort after effort to stop the virus fail.
This is great summer time reading for anyone who enjoys techno-sci-fi books. The story line is convincing, the scientific premises of the book are within the reach of feasibility, and the potential consequences of such an act are mind boggling.
Please re-issue this book. There are certainly people out there who would enjoy it.
5 stars!
Alan Holyoak
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking but not a page turner Nov. 30 2005
By Joshua DeWald - Published on
The premise of the book (a virus that kills only women and targeted at specific countries) is interesting and the book itself is full of thought-provoking comments about revenge, social interaction, xenophobia, the power of science, and the role of religion.

There was also a lot of focus on the plight and anger of the Irish at the British and, before them, the Romans. I certainly would have gotten more from this aspect if I knew more about Irish history or had Irish in my ancestry.

_Dune_ and the books that followed it were much more engrossing. Herbert, in this rare foray into "contemporary" literature, is thorough as always in his analysis of the workings of society and relationships among people.

There's no doubt that it's a well-written book, but it was definitely a book where I was ok missing a day of reading it. Definitely not light "summer" reading but at the end of the day it's worth the read.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best non-Dune novel by Frank Herbert. Aug. 5 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Herbert crafts the finest social science fiction I've ever read. What makes this book excellent is the way you see events from all sides. Herbert handles complex characters and situations masterfuly. From the IRA terrorist to the biological terrorist, the villain and the hero exist in everyone at the right time under the right circumstances. To anyone who thinks this is just a macho melee, I would point out the power and reverence women gain from the outcome, as if these were possibly the first Reverend Mothers of the Bene Gesserit (my own leap--this book is completely apart from the Dune books aside from the great craftsmanship of the author.) Readers should also try the Dune books, Whipping Star, The Dosadi Experiment, and Man of Two Worlds. Any Herbert book is a good one, but those are some of his finest work.
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