GQ had the brilliant idea of interviewing Stephen King, author of the post-apocalyptic novel The Stand, about swine flu. In his book (later a movie, and even later a TV mini-series starring Molly Ringwald and Mia from Just Shoot Me!), a devastating epidemic wipes out almost the entire population of the earth, leaving two small ragtag forces of people representing good and evil to face off over the fate of what is left of humanity. We can’t believe no one thought to interview him earlier:
GQ: But what do you think is so compelling about the idea of the apocalypse? Why are we so eager to entertain the notion that it’s going to happen in our lifetime?
SK: Well for me, when I wrote the book, it almost seemed like it would be a relief — instead of picking at this Gordian knot of international relations and economic problems, and the cost of oil, and making the house payments, you just swung through it, chopped it wide open with one big stroke. And it’s just gone. Like that. And I thought there [would be] a good side to that happening, because we were killing ourselves. Our technology had far outraced out [sic] moral ability to deal with the problems it creates. We’re still so far behind that we can’t decide what to do with stem cells, you know? We’re still arguing the theological benefits while people sit quadriplegic in wheelchairs, blowing into straws to move themselves from place to place.
As depressing as that is, King does say what no one else has yet admitted: When there are hints of a pandemic or other global disaster, everyone sort of thinks about where they would run to [Ed: My parents’ lake house in Maine! There’s lots of frozen moose meat and a ginormous liquor cabinet!] and how they would live if they were the only survivor. He also points out that he’s something of a fortune-teller, having predicted that someone would one day fly a jetliner into a New York skyscraper in The Running Man. This of course, causes GQ to inadvertently ask the nuclear question:
GQ: Is there anything else in your books that you think will come true in the next few years?
SK: Well, here’s one thing. We can’t talk about this too long, it’s too much of a bummer. But it’s been almost 65 years since anybody’s blown up a nuclear weapon in a city in the world. Everybody knows that’s going to happen. You’re going to wake up one morning to find out somebody exploded a dirty nuke in Baghdad or Islamabad. Or the North Koreans actually did launch some kind of a shit-kicking little missile and managed to blow up part of Tokyo. In terms of death toll, it probably won’t be any worse than what happened at Chernobyl. But the trauma. I mean, look at the situation we’re in — people fly a jet plane low over New York City, and the city goes all Martian Chronicles.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Ladies and gentlemen, you may now return to your regularly scheduled swine-flu panic.