"The Stand" by Stephen King is an epic novel that follows the survivors of an apocalyptic plague through their experiences before, during and after the event. While this is a major plotline of the novel, the eponymous stand is a face-off between good and evil in a battle for what remains of the United States. It is hinted that, in the time to come, the battle will spread to other countries and become a worldwide struggle for power.
The novel progresses from the story of a young soldier who manages to escape a U.S. Army facility when a then unknown disaster occurs there. As the young man, his wife and child make their escape, they touch the lives of several others. Soon, the reader learns that the young man and his family are carrying a highly deadly virus -- a manufactured strain of the flu. Gradually, characters from across the country fold into the story seamlessly as almost everyone around them gets sick and dies while they are left to traverse the broken country in search of a place where society can reconvene.
In true Stephen King style, "The Stand" addresses deep fears that would be quite realistic in such an event. A pregnant woman fears her child will not be immune to the virus. A number of survivors realize that the loss of most modern medicine means their lives are still at risk. The loss of law and order leaves survivors wondering what will happen when someone inevitably gets violent. On top of all of these, there is the supernatural evil that one expects from Stephen King. In "The Stand," this evil comes in the form of a creature known as the Dark Man, the Walking Dude, Randall Flagg, Walter o'Dimm and possibly Andre Linoge. This one single creature is the ultimate bad guy in Stephen King's fictional universe and he has come for the world in this story.
This is one of Stephen King's best works. It is terrifying, uplifting, sad and, best of all, it is one of the ropes that ties into the best horror series of all time -- the Dark Tower series. It touches on religion, while distancing itself from absolutes as to the existence of any deity. King carefully interchanges the words magic and miracle so as to leave an ambiguity that I have always appreciated in his work. Anyone who has some time to kill on a book that is bigger than the Bible should pick up "The Stand."