In The Stand, Stephen King tackles the question: What would become of society if nearly all of the people disappeared within a few weeks.
At the beginning of the novel a biological weapon leaks from a quarantined military base and people begin to get very ill very quickly. The U.S. government tries to cover up its error and the weapon it created - often through violent means - but within 2 months, over 99% of the world's population is dead.
In America, the survivors group together - drawn by visions in their dreams. Some travel to Boulder, CO to join with 108-year-old Mother Abigail and some go to Las Vegas, NV to follow the the mysterious Randall Flagg. Mother Abigail has a good heart and talks of love for one another; Randall Flagg is a malevolent wizard who delights in the chaos created by this epidemic.
Along the way to Boulder and Las Vegas and the final confrontation between the two camps, King explores a myriad of characters and their journey to either the light side or dark side. Even many who end up in Boulder with Abigail are tempted by the dark wizard Flagg. The characters are rich and their back stories before the disaster help us to understand their actions after.
I loved the evolution of characters: Larry Underwood was a self-absorbed and irresponsible rock star before the plague, but found himself willing to sacrifice himself for those he loved after the tragedy; Trash Can Man and Nadine Cross cannot avoid the blackness of their souls and where their destiny takes them, but they still find a way to partially redeem their lives.
It's not surprising that many King fans list this as their favourite novel. King pits good against evil; God against the Devil; chaos against order; and the collapse of civilization against attempts to rebuild it. The climax is a long time coming, but the payoff is excellent. I've read over a dozen of King's books and this is now my favourite.