I recently finished reading a novel titled The Cobra Event by Richard Preston. It was a fictional read and explores topics similar to The Hot Zone, Richard’s first book written on the subject of infectious diseases. Both books explore the emergence of a virus and its initial outbreak; however, The Hot Zone is a non-fiction read while The Cobra Event is Richard’s debut in fiction writing. Additionally, in The Cobra Event, the virus is human-engineered in a Malthusian-inspired desire to control population growth rather than a pre-existing virus such as influenza, Ebola, or smallpox.
If you’ve read The Hot Zone, you’ll have remembered Richard’s graphic, realistic depictions of hemorrhaging that declared Stephen King to have labeled the book as “one of the most horrifying things [he’s] ever read”. The Cobra Event contains much the same style of graphic writing, albeit in a more sensationalistic tone rather than the didactic and cautious tone that Richard held in The Hot Zone. In all, The Cobra Event does not stand up well by itself as a novel. Character development is essentially nonexistent and certain plot details that utilize multiple pages of text are seemingly useless. One thing The Cobra Event does excel in, however, is providing historical information about various viruses and international organizations relating to viruses and biological weaponry as well as (relatively) current information about technology relating to virus detection and classification. The Cobra Event ends on a common note of Richard, a warning of the inevitability of the spread of infectious disease and its potential influence on mankind.
Why did I read those two books? I first read The Hot Zone about a year ago for a book report for AP Biology. Since taking the course, I’ve been more interested in topics such as human health, anatomy and physiology, medicine, viruses, and genetics since these fields directly impact every single individual. In the case of any of these sub-fields of biology, there is an infinite amount of mysteries that have yet to be solved and an infinite amount of mysteries that have yet to have been hypothesized. The expanse of information to be learned about the human body and its relation to itself, others, and the outside world is likely as elaborate as the amount of knowledge we still have to uncover about space or the depths of our oceans.
Additionally, I believe human health to be a topic of increasing importance in a unified world. Illnesses have an increasing potential to pass through international flights and travels; this can be seen by reading about the near outbreak of the Ebola virus in The Hot Zone or even reading about the news about the MERS virus that has recently been transported to American soil for the first time. The density of human population on Earth is increasing dramatically (exacerbated by limited resources and increased pollution) and there is a likely need for more individuals to be knowledgeable about human health and medicine. In the case of Richard’s novels, the diseases described are extreme, but yet still exist and will likely persist to evolve and spread in the foreseeable future (look to the spread of AIDs for an example of a ‘new’ disease). However, the same holds true for less complex or dangerous diseases. I feel like basic information about medical treatment and illnesses should become common knowledge if at all possible; many lives could potentially be saved if we could all learn a little more about human health.
The perspective I believe Richard Preston presents throughout his writing is his desire for an increased awareness and acknowledgement of the microscopic members of our community, even if we cannot appropriately react to them due to scientific or technological restrains.