The coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) continues to dominate the headlines as the numbers of infected individuals and the death toll continue to rise globally. The barrage of “state of emergency” declarations and instantaneous press coverage of coronavirus breaking news, created a sense of panic hitting cities. Scenes of shoppers fighting over toilet papers, empty grocery store shelves, people declaring self-quarantines all add to the general anxiety.
Now comes hair raising conspiracy theories and scary predictions that are making the rounds of the social media. From the French Nostradamus to Bulgaria’s Baba Vanga’s prophesies, they remind of a bleaker future. Now comes a famous fictional writer, American Dean Koontz whose “The Eyes of Darkness” novel published some 40 years ago has gone viral in social media.
Koontz’ global pandemic fictional story has become relevant to the present predicament because of what he called “Wuhan-400” that was predicted to kill people in the year 2020. Eerie indeed. Many are falling for it and sharing photos of the book cover and relevant pages of the book hard copies with circled paragraphs to highlight the point that this current pandemic was purposely inflicted on mankind by the Chinese.
There’s really a lot to unpack here but perhaps we could start with mentioning what Koontz’ story was about. “The Eyes of Darkness” was originally published by Dean Koontz under a pseudonym or alias – Leigh Nichols in 1981. Conspiracy theorist are calling Koontz brilliant for predicting the COVID-19 outbreak as laid out in the book. The relevant quotes include the name “Wuhan-400” in honor of the city that is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Wuhan-400” was supposedly given its name being the 400th viable strain of man-made microorganism created at the research and development laboratory in Wuhan. The novel described “Wuhan-400” as “China’s most important and dangerous new biological weapon in a decade” and supposedly mentions the year 2020 and the outbreak of a “severe pneumonia-like illness.”
“Wuhan-400” according to Koontz is “the perfect weapon. It afflicts human beings, no other living creature can carry it. Just like syphilis, Wuhan-400 can’t survive outside a living body for longer than a minute, which means it can’t permanently contaminate objects or entire places the way anthrax and other virulent microorganisms can. When the host expires, the Wuhan-400 within him perishes a short while later, as soon as the temperature of the corpse drops below 30C.” Wow!
To sow more fear, conspiracy theorists added their basic math skills to imply some hidden messages in the novel by broking down the publication year 1981 as 1+9+8+1 add up to 19 - the year COVID-19 was first reported. That the strain designation of 400 is really 20x20 which is the current outbreak year. Circulating photos of original hard copy pages with underlines on page 333 to highlight a disconcerting analogy that “Wuhan-400” is a killer virus that will bring global havoc in 2020 with no known cure.
Well, these are obvious conflated statements from different sources. The thing about a global virus outbreak in 2020 was from psychic Sylvia Brown who wrote in the book “End of Days” that “In around 2020 a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments. Almost more baffling than the illness itself will be the fact that it will suddenly vanish as quickly as it arrived, attack again ten years later, and then disappear completely.” Indeed when conflating Koontz with Brown’s brings a more realistic bite to what’s happening now.
But more on Koontz’ dark novel who named a fictional Chinese scientist Li Chen “who fled to the United States, carrying a diskette copy of the most important Chinese biological weapon in a decade.” This is kind of an interesting aspect of the story. But more on that in a minute.
First, some facts. Koontz original novel was published in 1981 under his pseudonym. The story is about a mother looking for her son who was reported dead but later found being held in a U.S. government research facility.
The original virus was “Gorki-400” named after the city where it was developed: Gorki, U.S.S.R. It was a Cold War setting that featured the United States and Russia. The Cold War was the geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle between these two superpowers that ended when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.
Koontz republished the book in 1989 under his real name, to make it more relevant with an emerging superpower China as the new villain and renaming the virus to “Wuhan-400.” It was the year that students’ peaceful demonstration turned into the Tiananmen Square massacre. So, why is this political angle relevant? Well, while the book is a work of fiction, the author’s ideological bent is clearly manifested in it.
To put the novel in perspective, we need to know the author. Koontz grew up a Philadelphia Republican fiction writer who now lives in California. He claims to be a libertarian advocate for human rights but a conservative in defense. His take on the sci-fi movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” will surprise you.
Most of us viewed the movie for its entertaining value of aliens taking over human bodies. Koontz saw something deeper that the movie brims with profound truths through compelling metaphors that has reshaped the thinking of humanity. His critic of the “Invasion of Body Snatchers” allowed Koontz to hide his own anti-immigrant bias with “these immigrants (aliens) don’t need no stinkin’ green cards!” commentary.
“Communism and fascism are the obvious examples of ideologies that not merely devalued the individual but denied legitimacy to the very idea that masses exist for any purposes other than to serve an elite and to die for the philosophies of that elite,” claimed Koontz.
Knowing this, it would seem that the character of Li Chen who defected in the U.S. in his 1989 pandemic thriller is probably a tribute to Fang Lizhi, a Chinese astrophysicist who was given asylum in June 1989 at the US Embassy Beijing. Fang’s instigation of the Tiananmen protests and advocacy for human rights clearly endeared him to Koontz.
So, why Wuhan? Wuhan in 1989 was very much in the news being China’s face of Deng Xiaoping’s ditching socialism and embrace of capitalism. It became China’s political, economic, financial, commercial, cultural and educational center. China has emerged as President Ronald Reagan’s de facto nemesis in 1989.
Kootnz psychological thriller should be viewed as a political hit piece meant to avenge Fang and the massacred activists and to show Koontz distrust of governments – the U.S. included. Koontz has not really prophesied the COVID-19 outbreak because when the virus is compared to WUHAN-400, there are lots of inconsistencies from the incubation period, to the lethality of the virus, how the WUHAN-400 was bio-engineered, and viability. Perhaps some coincidence but I’m sure Sen. Tom Cotton will disagree that Koontz tried to humor us.