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The White Plague

The White Plague is a science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, about a molecular biologist, John Roe O'Neill, whose wife and children are killed when a bomb planted by the IRA goes off. Vowing revenge, he creates a plague that kills only women, and releases it in Ireland (for supporting the terrorists), England (for oppressing the Irish and giving them a cause), and Libya (for training them); he then demands that the governments of the world quarantine those countries and let the plague run its course, so they will lose what he has lost; if they don't, he has more plagues to release.

* spoilers follow *

Typical of a Herbert novel, most of the drama is mental, political, and communal. While the story of O'Neill and his revenge is told in full, there is also the larger story of how the governments of the world's countries deal with the plague, which escapes into limited areas that are quickly sterilized by "panic fire", which immolates everything and everyone in it. North Africa is wiped out; Boston is burned to the ground; Rome is destroyed with atomic bombs; and the U.S. pushes for a moat of cobalt dust to isolate Africa, which is written off as a total loss. The world's armed forces are reorganized under a Canadian admiral, Francois Delacourt, who heads Barrier Command, responsible for the absolute separation of contaminated and clean areas. Scientists toy with a conspiracy of intellectuals to override the expected repression of research by governments. In countries around the world, angry mobs lynch Irish, English, and Libyans, and anyone too closely resembling them.

O'Neill is driven halfway insane by the death of his family, and his mind fragments into several personalities that carry out his plan for him. After loosing the plague, he goes to Ireland to hide, planning to offer his services as a molecular biologists in the hopes of sabotaging whatever work is done there on finding a cure. When he arrives in England, he is suspected of being O'Neill (whom the investigatory agencies of the world have deduced is responsible). To travel to the lab at Killaloe, he is forced to walk with a priest, a boy struck mute by the death of his mother, and Joseph Herrity, the IRA bomber who detonated the explosive that killed O'Neill's wife and children; their purpose is to confirm his identity, either through Herrity's indirect questioning, or the possibility that he will confess to the priest when confronted with the pain his revenge has caused for the boy.

Meanwhile, law and order have broken down in England and Ireland, and the old Irish ways are coming back. Local IRA thugs appoint themselves 'kings of old', and others recreate old, pagan religions centred on the rowan[?] tree. The IRA has effective control of Ireland, but as the governments of the world grow certain that O'Neill is there and in effective custody, they start to consider that wiping out the three targetted countries with panic fire might be the most effective end to the lingering threat.



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