By Mitali Chakravarty
Title: The Eyes of Darkness
Author: Dean Koontz
Publisher: Pocket Books, USA, 1996
One of the passages from a thriller that has been circulating the social media circles during COVID 19 is how the Wuhan virus was evolved in a lab in the United States with a Chinese refugee’s help, one who had defected to US “carrying a diskette record of China’s most important and dangerous biological weapon in a decade.” The book, The Eyes of Darkness by Dean Koontz, is listed as a thriller, mystery, suspense and horror. It has been republished with a few changes in 1996, post-Glasnost and post-Tiananmen incident.
In the novel, the virus, called Wuhan 400, was said to have been developed in a lab in the outskirts of Wuhan. It “afflicted only human beings”. The fictitious virus had an incubation period of less than twenty-four hours. We are told, “It destroys part of the brain that controls the autonomic functions. The victim simply ceases to have a pulse, functioning organs, or any urge to breathe.” People died within a few hours of the infection.
The corona, luckily for mankind, does not affect the brain – only the lungs and most recover with mild flu-like symptoms and some have no symptoms at all.
The Wuhan 400 has been shown to be so infectious that one single panic-ridden, irresponsible, contaminated scientist infected a huge batch of boys and their teachers, who were on a trip that would teach the youngsters survival skills. Ironically, except for one child, the rest die. What gave the child the resilience to survive becomes the source of study for scientists in the middle of a deserted spot in Texas. The story revolves around how the child is rescued by his mother and her boyfriend who fly incognito all the way from Las Vegas to Reno and then into the wilds.
The book has a touch of the paranormal. The author tells us in an ‘Afterword’: “The Eyes of Darkness was one of my early attempts to write cross- genre novel mixing action, suspense, romance, and a touch of the paranormal.” And the title is based on the paranormal activity. The paranormal activity is a little eerie and the descriptions are just frightening to the right degree.
The Eyes of Darkness had been revised in 1996 and republished. This is the version that is doing the rounds of the social media platforms. The earlier 1981 version was authored by Dan Koontz under the pen name of Leigh Nichols. In the 1981 version, the virus was called Gorki 400 virus and developed in Russia. This was before Mikhail Gorbachev used the terms perestroika(restructuring) and glasnost to indicate an openness in the Soviet Union which was its first step towards democratisation. Then in 1991, Boris Yeltsin moved towards a loose federation of Russian states. In 1989, the terrifying incident of Tiananmen Square killed thousands of innocent protestors.
In the 1996 edition, Dombey, a scientist in the facility which housed the research tell us , “The Russians… they’re now supposed to be our new friends, but they keep developing bacteriological weapons, new and more virulent strains of viruses, because they are broke, and this is a lot cheaper than other weapons systems…” That the paranoid of weaponists and security experts obviously knows no bounds anywhere in the world is well borne out by the narrative. This has nothing of the conspiracy theories to wipe out the world. It is a thriller like a James Bond! It does not dwell on Machiavellian concepts quoted in Dan Brown’s thriller, Inferno:
“When every province of the world so teems with inhabitants that they can neither subsist where they are nor remove elsewhere, every region being equally crowded and over-peopled, and when human craft and wickedness have reached their highest pitch, it must needs come about that the world will purge herself in one or another of these three ways: floods, plague and famine”
Dan Brown has something similar in Inferno where the world is threatened by a conspiracy to decimate the population based on Machiavellian and Malthusian principles by a villain who is more colourful and dramatic than Koontz’s and weaves the story in the city of Florence.
The story of Inferno, located in Italy, is interesting and perhaps can be the subject of another review. I enjoy a Dan Brown thriller more because it is woven around history and philosophy.
The Eyes of Darkness is simpler lore — with shooting, bars, the glamorous world of casinos, racing from place to place, helicopter and fast car rides, homes getting blown up, strange paranormal activities that wreck a room and bomb blasts from which the protagonists escape. The villain is perhaps a little less colourful than Dan Brown’s or the Joker from Batman — but weird none the less. The plot is intriguing! Take a plunge and see — it is a good and easy read while you wait out the virulence of the real COVID 19!
Mitali Chakravarty is a writer and the founding editor of borderlessjournal.com.