Lanternfish Press

Rare & Strange

5 Unusual Literary Diseases

Katarina KapetanakisComment

At the end of October, Lanternfish Press will be releasing The Afflictions: a mini-encyclopedia of strange and fantastical diseases. Trust me when I say that these illnesses range from the spine-tingling to the thought-provoking.

In honor of the fast-approaching official release (party on November 5, y’all!), we’ve gathered some of literature’s more unusual diseases. If these were real…I might never go outside again.

Plague of Insomnia (Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude)

The Plague of Insomnia strikes the small, secluded town of Macondo when a young orphan named Rebeca makes her way out of the forest. When she is welcomed into the Buendía household, she unwittingly infects her new adoptive family, which in turn spreads the infection throughout the entire town of Macondo.

The plague causes those who are infected to have wide, glowing, cat-like eyes. They can’t sleep, but they aren’t tired in the slightest, and are therefore able to work all day and night. (You know how there’s just not enough time in the day? Well, now there is!)

Sounds like this disease isn’t too bad: You can’t sleep, but you’re not exhausted. You can finally take care of all the things you’ve been meaning to. But there’s a big catch: everyone who becomes infected eventually loses all his or her memories. Victims of the disease forget names, faces, even how simple tools are supposed to work or what basic household items are used for. Eventually they even forget their own identities. Not exactly worth all the extra hours of productivity, after all. 

Spattergroit (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

We can’t have a list of fictional ailments without including Harry Potter, right? Spattergroit is only mentioned briefly in the books, but the symptoms are certainly memorable. The infected person develops horrible purple pustules all over their face. After the fungus reaches the throat, the victim becomes mute.

What’s really interesting about this fantastical disease is the cure: you have to stand naked in a barrel of eel’s eyes under the light of a full moon, with a toad’s liver strapped to your throat. Hey, whatever works…but you have to wonder how many experiments the wizard doctors went through before they came up with this particular cure.

Red Death (Edgar Allan Poe, The Masque of the Red Death)

Of course we weren’t going to compile a list of fake diseases and leave out Edgar Allan Poe, either. The Red Death, highly contagious and always fatal, made the wealthy aristocrats of the town barricade themselves in a tower, waiting for the plague to die out with the last of its victims. While they enjoyed masquerade balls and lavish parties, the citizens outside were dying of the gruesome disease.

Victims of the Red Death suffered convulsions, sweated blood, and died within half an hour. That’s right, blood from every pore…nuff said. Maybe the really fantastical thing here is that they lasted a whole half hour. 

Greyscale (George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire)

Westeros, home of epic Machiavellian politics and bloody battles, has its share of illness too. This disease is usually fatal, because of course it is. People who contract greyscale are usually children, because George R.R. Martin is a monster, but adults can catch it too, and it’s usually worse for them than it is for the youth of Westeros. It mostly affects those who live in damp, cold climates.

Victims of the disease suffer as their skin grows stiff, crackling, and stone-like. In children, the scales only partially cover the skin, whereas adults usually find their entire bodies covered by the disease. Children who contract the illness and survive are then immune to the rarer and more fatal version of the disease, and can never catch greyscale again. (G.R.R.M.’s little ray of sunshine.) However, they are disabled for the rest of their lives, since parts of their skin are essentially stone. For adults the disease is always fatal, and often drives them insane towards the end.

To treat the disease, the Maesters recommend limes, mustard poultices, and scalding baths, which can help slow its progress. Others claim that cutting off infected limbs stops the spread of infection, but that isn’t always the case (oops). At least sufferers of this illness are no longer contagious after the spread of the growths stops.

Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton,  The Andromeda Strain)

Michael Crichton’s sci-fi tale has been adapted for television twice, and yet the novel still manages to strike fear into the heart of anyone whose favorite apocalypse scenario is some sort of plague. Part of what makes this disease so realistic is the lovely fact that Crichton (like our Dr. Paralkar) was a medical doctor and had the scientific background to create a fictional disease with more than a touch of realism about it.

Essentially, this disease erodes the walls of blood vessels, triggering a coagulation response (and therefore clogging up your entire circulatory system) or causing cerebral hematomas (usually leading to dementia). The strain is always evolving, which makes it difficult for the scientists to fight, and it also happens to be extremely contagious, as most airborne illnesses are. There is hope, however: the disease can’t survive in the human body if the blood is too acidic or too alkaline. So load up on the citrus, kids.

Those are some of our favorite fictional diseases. Want lots more? Be sure to pick up a copy of “The Afflictions”! It’ll be on sale starting October 31, but you can preorder it now.

The Afflictions
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