Did a Novel in 1981 Predict a Coronavirus Outbreak? Mystery of Wuhan 400 Virus

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The Eyes of Darkness is the name a 1981 thriller written by bestselling suspense author Dean Koontz. It narrates a very interesting story of a Chinese military lab that genetically modifies a virus as part of its biological weapons program. Now the real shocker, the lab is located in Wuhan, and the virus gets its name from the place of its origin.

The virus is called Wuhan-400. A chilling coincidence of functional accounts coming true or a case of the writer as an unwitting prophet?

Details of the man-made virus in ‘The Eyes of Darkness’

In The Eyes of Darkness, a grieving mother, Christina Evans, ventures out on a quest to discover whether her son Danny died on a camping trip or if – as suspicious messages suggest – he is still alive.

She finally manages to tracks her son down to a military facility where he is being held after being accidentally contaminated with man-made microorganisms created at the research center in Wuhan.

If that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, read this passage from the book: “It was around that time that a Chinese scientist named Li Chen moved to the United States while carrying a floppy disk of data from China’s most important and dangerous new biological weapon of the past decade. They call it Wuhan-400 because it was developed in their RDNA laboratory just outside the city of Wuhan.”

The real Wuhan Institute of virology

Real Wuhan Institute of virology
Real Wuhan Institute of virology Source

A typical coincidence where, the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses China’s only level four biosafety laboratory, the highest-level classification of labs that study the deadliest viruses, is just 32km from the epicenter of the current coronavirus outbreak.

The book is written in the year 1981, however, the maximum-security lab was opened in the 2017 story and was also covered in the Nature Journal. That time the article event went own to warn of safety risks in a culture where hierarchy trumps an open culture.

The book provided a fodder to the conspiracy theorist that claim the coronavirus now named COVID-19, involved in the current outbreak appears to be man-made and likely escaped from the Wuhan virology by accident. The theory, however, has been widely debunked. In fact, the lab was actually one of the first to sequence the coronavirus.

Wuhan 200 is the ‘Perfect Weapon’ in the novel

Wuhan 200 is the 'Perfect Weapon' in the novel

In Koontz’s thriller, the virus is considered the “perfect weapon” because it only affects humans and, since it cannot survive outside the human body for longer than a minute, it does not demand expensive decontamination once a population is wiped out, allowing the victors to roll in and claim a conquered territory.

Mr. Koontz a prolific writer with many bestsellers to his name. His first book, Star Quest, was published in 1968 and he has been churning out suspense fiction at a phenomenal rate since with more than 80 novels and 74 works of short fiction under his belt.

The 74-year-old, a devout Catholic, lives in California with his wife. But what are the odds of him so closely predicting the future?

Explanations of such coincidences

Explanations of such coincidences

Wuhan has historically been the site of many scientific research facilities, including ones dealing with microbiology and virology. A smart writer like Koontz could have known all this and used this bit of factual information to craft a story that is both convincing and unsettling.

It is not uncommon for writers to get inspired by real places to build their story.

British writer Paul French, who specializes in books about China as per South China Morning Post, says many of the elements around viruses in China relate back to the second world war, which may have been a factor in Koontz’s thinking.

During the second world war, the occupying force of Japan had performed a lot of chemical weapons research in China, which is associated with Unit 731 in Harbin and northern China. However, they also stored chemical weapons in Wuhan, and Japan has already admitted to that. You can even find an article where Japan pledges to destroy chemical weapons left in Wuhan after the end of WWII.

For a fiction writer creating a thriller about a virus outbreak set in China, Wuhan does stand out a good choice due to historical significance.

Also, Wuhan is on the Yangtze River that goes east-west, it’s on the high-speed railway line that goes north-south; it’s right at the crossroads of transport networks in the center of the country. Where better to start a fictional epidemic, or indeed a real one?” says Spurrier.

Hong Kong crime author (as per South China Morning Post) Chan Ho-Kei believes that this kind of “fiction-prophecy” is not uncommon.“If you look really hard, I bet you can spot prophecies for almost all events.

It makes me think about the ‘infinite monkey’ theorem,” he says, referring to the theory that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text. “The probability is low, but not impossible.”

Chan points to the 1898 novella Futility, which told the story of a huge ocean liner that sank in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg. Many uncanny similarities were noted between the fictional ship – called Titan – and the real-life passenger ship RMS Titanic, which sank 14 years later. Following the sinking of the Titanic, the book was reissued with some changes, particularly in the ship’s gross tonnage.

Fiction writers strive to predict future

“Fiction writers always try to imagine what the reality would be, so it’s very likely to write something like a prediction. Of course, it’s bizarre when the details collide, but I think it’s just a matter of mathematics,” says Chan.
Many of Koontz’s books have been adapted for television or the big screen, but The Eyes of Darkness never achieved such glory. This bizarre coincidence will thrust it into the spotlight and may see sales of this otherwise forgotten thriller jump.

Amazon is currently offering the book in its store. You can see the book here. However, a future republication may actually take some cues from reality and change the story, so if you wish to compare the reality vs fiction this is the time to buy it.

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