A science fiction book by Frank Herbert, published in 1982. Unfortunately this book is currently out of print. However, it may be obtained used.

I have attempted to make this a spoiler-free review so that you can enjoy the book fully.

The book is set in the very near future, which, since it was writen in 1982, has probably already passed. The book is different from the norm in that the main character is also the villain. He is in addition, I think, intended to be a subject of the reader's pity, yet his plight, as well as the atrocity he commits both seem to this reader to be so entirely beyond everyday experience that one can only observe in awe. He is simply beyond sympathy. However, unlike poorly conceived characters who fail to hold your attention because you feel you can not relate to them in any way, this character held my attention extremely well. This is perhaps because Herbert focuses not just on him, but on the effects he has on everything and everybody else. The wakes of his passing, so to speak.

Much of this book takes place in Ireland. Herbert contrasts the beauty of the Irish countryside with the horror and desolation that are the theme of the book. As a result, the cinematography of this book, if one can use that word in describing a book, is absolutely phenomenal. It is for me one of the most memorable parts of the book.

As with other Frank Herbert masterpieces, the greatness of his work doesn't lie within his choice of words or the structure of his sentences. Oh, these are great too. But the poetry is in how the ideas and philosophies intertwine with the plot, and in the way that he brings different threads of stress and weaves them together, untill they combine in a epiphany of tension, a sort of critical mass, of both meaning and plot that seems to go so much deeper than either of these. (For those that have read it, in this book, for me that moment came during the trial scene).

I still get chills every time I think about this book. Writing this review has made my hair stand on end. Needless to say, I think it's great. Not for those of you who like a lot of action in their sci-fi however. There are no laser guns, for example. Many people will feel this book drags on.

“White plague” was a term for tuberculosis that enjoyed some popularity in the late 1800s, at a time when the disease was pandemic in the industrialized world. Specifically, it refers to pulmonary tuberculosis— tuberculosis of the lungs, which was then generally known as consumption or phthisis.

Oliver Wendell Holmes is credited with coining the term in 1867, in a lecture given at Harvard University: “Two diseases especially have attracted attention, above all others, with reference to their causes and prevention; cholera, the 'black death' of the nineteenth century, and consumption, the white plague of the North, both of which have been faithfully studied and reported on by physicians of our own State and city.”1

The ‘plague’ part is pretty self-explanatory, considering the severity and the scope of the disease at the time. During the nineteenth century, tuberculosis killed more people in the developed world than any other disease, with mortality rates generally running around 300 per 100,000.2 Where the ‘white’ comes from is a little harder to discern. It may refer to the paleness of the sickly tubercular, who often suffered from anemia. Another possibility is hinted at by Holmes’ phrasing: he calls cholera the “‘black death’ of the nineteenth century,” highlighting the similarity between it and plague, which both tended to spread across Europe in periodic epidemics before disappearing for years. Calling tuberculosis the ‘white plague’ may just be a way of contrasting it with such diseases, since tuberculosis, rather than coming and going in great bursts, seemed to simmer constantly in the population.

1Medical Essays, 1842-1882, p 352.

2Harrison, Mark. Disease and the Modern World. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004.

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