By Richard Preston
Anchor Books, 422 pp, 1994
"From deep in the rain
forest," intones the slick insert inside the cover, "A KILLER
VIRUS stalks the human race."
Well, it is and it isn't. Let me
Preston recounts an Ebola outbreak
that infected lab monkeys in Reston, Virginia. Though humans were
infected with the virus, they did not get sick. In fact, this strain of
Ebola, to this point unknown to all, was harmless in humans, though it
wiped out the poor monkeys.
Naturally, when Ebola first showed up,
no one knew it was a new, harmless strain. So the army and CDS went into
action, killing monkeys, sanitizing the lab, testing blood samples, the
whole nine yards. All for, well, nothing.
But not really for nothing, of course,
because now we have Ebola Reston to add to the list of viral nasties,
such as Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan. These are horrible, dangerous
viruses that have no cure and usually kill the poor sap who should
happen to catch one. I now know all about these viruses, in addition to
Marburg, because Reston spends the first half of the book telling us all
See, he knows the false alarm in
Reston isn't enough to carry the book, so he needed to fill some space
with graphic descriptions of all the various stages of Ebola. It ain't
pretty, folks. You don't want to get it.
That's the book. Some history and an
outbreak of harmless Ebola. A bit anticlimactic, considering the hype
inside the cover.
But be afraid. There are no cures to
these viruses. They can appear anytime and spread across the globe like
wildfire, wiping out the human race. Preston almost seems to wish for
it. Near the end, he sermonizes "The appearance of AIDS, Ebola...
appears to be a natural consequence of the ruin of the tropical
biosphere." That's encouraging. Catch Ebola and die a painful
death, and it's your fault.
Ah, but the earth isn't taking this
destruction peacefully. "In a sense, the earth is mounting an
immune response against the human species. It is beginning to react to
the human parasite, the flooding infection of people, the dead spots of
concrete all over the planet, the cancerous rot-outs in Europe, Japan,
and the United States, thick with replicating primates, the colonies
enlarging and spreading and threatening to shock the biosphere with mass
extinctions. Perhaps the biosphere does not "like" the idea of
five billion humans." The earth is pissed with humans, and is
"attempting to rid itself of the human parasite."
Didn't know you were a parasite, did
you? Didn't know the earth does not want you here, did you? You fool.
What right do you have, living and multiplying and filling the earth?
How selfish! The planet is suffering, and what do you do? Reproduce!
Create more parasites!
What's that? You say if humans are
parasites, all living things are parasites, because all living things
live off the earth? And there are more of other creatures than humans,
so why isn't Mama Nature pissed at mosquitoes and cockroaches?
What kind of question is that? Shut up
and take your medicine. Preston says you'll die because you're a parasite
and it's your fault and you deserve it. Because you're here.
You should be ashamed.