The word, Decimation, is one which has changed a little in modern colloquial usage. When people talk about something being decimated, they often mean it has been largely destroyed.
However, the original meaning of the word derives from the time of the Romans. Decimation was a form of extreme military discipline in which every tenth man in a group was executed. It was used as a punishment for severe crimes such as cowardice, desertion or mutiny.
The first recorded instance was in 471 BC by the historian, Livy. He described how the Roman army was routed by the Volsci. Soldiers who abandoned their weapons and gave up the fight were individually flogged and beheaded. For the rest, lots were drawn, and one in ten were executed.
So, in what context did I use the word for the book title, Decimation: The Girl Who Survived?
The answer is the original Roman meaning of one in ten. Near the start of the book, Rosalind Baxter, one of the main characters, is giving a briefing to the British cabinet. She explains that the UK population is being decimated (i.e. decreasing by ten percent) every six years.
The background to the novel is that for sixteen years, a deadly disease, the Orestes virus, has been killing women as soon as they give birth. [Orestes was a Greek character, who murdered his mother Clytemnestra – but that’s a topic for another article!] As a consequence, almost no females are getting pregnant.
During the research for the book in around 2016, I created a graph of the population and the birth rate in the UK, where the story takes place. The novel starts in 2033, by which point the population is declining at a steady rate as the elderly and sick pass away but no children are born to replace them.
Some people have asked why anybody would get pregnant, knowing they would die. I gave this much thought and concluded there would still be a few accidental pregnancies. Some of those pregnant mothers would choose to give birth for religious or personal reasons, even if it meant their life would end in the process.
The book isn’t all doom and gloom, however. The story starts when teenage Paralympian athlete, Antimone Lessing, gives birth and survives. That makes her a vital clue in the race to find a cure. And a target for unscrupulous scientists who hope to gain financially from a treatment.
If you haven’t read Decimation: The Girl Who Survived already, why not give it a try?