Richard Preston: Dancing with the Devil

A crow hovered over the jungle, flapping its wings, and flew into a tropical garden house. In the open-door living room, there is an exquisite French breakfast on the table, including croissants, rose-colored aperitif, jams and more. The crow landed on the table and began to peck at food unscrupulously. On an overturned chair by the table—a tall white man with a pale face was gasping, sweating on his forehead.

In the emergency room of the Nairobi Hospital, the man is having difficulty breathing. Suddenly, a large amount of slimy black and red liquid was ejected from the man’s mouth, splashing on the doctor’s white coat, face, and hands… Under the attack of the mysterious virus, the man’s internal organs and flesh completely “melted” into one body. Stall the “broth”.

In the Spring Festival of 2020, young and middle-aged people in countless cities at home “blocked” by the new crown pneumonia epidemic watched this movie about the battle between humans and the Ebola virus through various online platforms, in a thrilling atmosphere created by both reality and camera Science-themed miniseries-“Blood Plague: The Story of Ebola”.

The hit American drama “Blood Plague”, which premiered in May 2019, is adapted from the most prestigious non-fiction work of American science journalist and author Richard Preston. After its publication in 1994, “Blood Plague” occupied the top spot in the “New York Times” non-fiction bestseller list for 61 consecutive weeks. For 25 years, it has become a classic of scientific reporting and writing.

Preston has dealt with high-risk pathogens and public health issues for nearly 30 years. He is recognized as the “ace” journalist and writer in this field. He has won numerous awards and made outstanding achievements. His insight and foresight into potential crises, as well as his vivid and accurate storytelling ability, even affected the U.S. government’s home security defense policy.

“I am very, very worried.” He talked about the daily life that has been completely changed by the epidemic, the shortage of resources in small town hospitals, the poor performance of the US federal government in responding to the state of emergency, the war and coexistence between humans and the virus-“I have been Observe carefully. I have made a lot of notes, but I am not sure if I will write a book on the new crown pneumonia virus.”

The pursuit of precision
In the 1980s and 1990s, a weird disease named “Acquired Immune Deficiency” spread in North America, Europe, and Australia. In 1999, pathologists and virologists gradually traced the source of the HIV virus to chimpanzees and certain types of monkeys in the African jungle.

A virus that uses African primates as its host eventually infects humans across species and causes epidemics all over the world.

In the early 1990s, Preston, who already had a place in the field of American scientific reporting, had a keen prediction that the HIV virus from the African jungle is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg – some deadly viruses will soon never cease. Coming out of the unreachable forest, invading the human body, using frequent and convenient modern transportation, it spread rapidly all over the world. “Erase” part of humanity.

In a conversation with a virologist, he learned that in Reston, not far from Washington, the political heart of the United States, scientists from the US military discovered that a batch of commercially imported experimental monkeys were infected with Ebola virus. In order to prevent the outbreak, scientists and soldiers joined forces to culminate this potential outbreak in the United States. The results proved: This is a new type of Ebola virus, which is surprisingly similar to the Zaire Ebola virus, which is the strongest in history and has a fatality rate of 75%.

Ebola virus is the deadliest pathogen known to mankind, belonging to the fourth level of biological protection. In the P4 laboratory, scientists are studying and fiddling with the most dangerous pathogens to humans, including Ebola, its sister virus Marburg, and anthrax. The famous HIV virus is only P2 level, while SARS and the new coronavirus pneumonia virus that is ravaging the world are at P3 level-their fatality rates are about 10% and 2% respectively, although they are extremely contagious.

Every time he enters a difficult professional field, Preston asks himself to get in like a graduate student in this field. Almost every time he completes a work, he will receive the highest recognition and praise in this professional field.

“Breaking Dawn” published in 1984, about the observatory and astronomers, won him the American Physical Society Prize. In 1994, the “Blood Plague” won him the Anti-epidemic Fighter Award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-this is the first and only time in CDC history that the award has been awarded to a non-medical and public health field. people.

Fact checking and the pursuit of precision are the magic weapon for Preston to win the deep trust of scientists. “After the first draft is written, I often call them, read relevant passages to them, and solicit their opinions on accurate expressions again and again.”

In 1977, when the 23-year-old Preston came to Princeton University on the East Coast to study as a graduate student, he met John McPhee, the American “non-fiction writing master” who had a profound influence on his career and life.

McPhee is recognized as the pioneer of “creative non-fiction writing” in the United States. In half a century, he has trained a large number of outstanding journalists, editors and writers. His disciples are all over the “New York Times”, “Washington Post”, “New Yorker”, and Major mainstream media such as Time and National Geographic.

“McPhee taught us the accuracy of the composition of words and sentences, we must absolutely respect the facts.” Another non-fiction writer said.

Stills of the American drama “Blood Plague” adapted from Preston’s works

Devil’s Jigsaw
At the beginning of “Blood Plague”, Preston used calm, beautiful and creepy brushwork to restore the last 15 days of the life of the French man Chalmone who lived in Kenya in 1980. How did the virus take this step by step? The strong man “melted” into a walking corpse that kept vomiting blood and mud, and where he contracted Ebola’s sister-Marburg virus.

At that time, a doctor in Nairobi Hospital had investigated Monet’s case, and a virologist from the United States had also investigated his epidemiological history. These two professionals and their investigations have become important clues for Preston to restore the “devil puzzle”.

For Preston, these are far from enough. Finally, he entered the hinterland of central Africa.

“In Kenya, I went to the cave where Monet was most likely to be infected with the virus. I went to the Nairobi Hospital and went to the accident and emergency department where he fell. During the investigation, I took pictures along the way to help myself better understand the real scene. What? I collected a lot of information about him, such as the bird that perched on the roof of his house, so I can describe it. Everything I wrote about Monet is true and accurate. ”

After thorough investigation and investigation, doctors and virologists from the United States believe that the infection site of Monet and another “patient zero” is likely to be the Chitam Cave on Mount Elgon in Kenya. In 1988, a 10-year-old Danish boy also developed terrible symptoms a few days after entering and exiting the cave, and soon died of a Marburg virus attack. His parents worked for an international relief agency in Kenya. They drove their children to experience the magical and dangerous beauty of the African continent and went to the Chitam caves to explore.

In August 1993, under the leadership of a local guide, Preston came to the cave where the demons were hidden. At the entrance of the cave, he put on biochemical protective clothing, prepared disinfectants and utensils, and built a temporary “P4 laboratory” for himself.

Five years ago, after Eugene Johnson, a “virus hunter” working for the U.S. Army, locked the Chitam Cave, he led a team of biological experts to investigate and sample the cave. They brought dozens of “sentinel animals”, and Tens of thousands of insects of various species were collected from the cave, but nothing was found.

The local hunter who served as the tour guide for Preston told him: He often went into the cave when he was a child. The local legend has always said that there is a kind of demon hidden in the cave. , “Each hole is bleeding outwards.” In contrast, AIDS, which makes many people feel creepy, is as slight as a sneeze.

In the cave, Preston walked and crawled awkwardly in the dark wearing a thick biochemical protective suit. Along the way, he saw elephant bones, stalactites, bats, spiders, and insects of all shapes and colors, while paying attention to the slippery fruit-green mud on the stone—that was the droppings of fruit bats.

Virologists believe that the intermediate host that infects humans with Marburg and Ebola viruses is likely to be fruit bats living in caves. Monet and the Danish boy touched the feces of fruit bats in the cave, and the virus entered their circulatory system through the wound on the skin.

In the cave, Preston couldn’t help but ponder the shape and color of these dangerous feces. It felt like a cooking method of oysters. “For a moment I couldn’t control the smell of bat dung.” He reminded himself severely-in the highest-risk biological level 4 area, the idea of ​​eating shit is a kind of brain Of nonsense.

“It can be said that this is my writing principle-you should try to get to the scene of the incident as much as possible. You must have all the information you may have.”

However, in this puzzle of the truth, there are still many blanks that he can’t find-about those who were “erased” by the Ebola virus, such as the one who tried to study abroad after learning that he was infected. Ma Yingjia, the young nun of the procedure, what is she thinking about? For example, the local teacher who died in the hospital in Malidi Town, is he the “patient number zero” who detonated the epidemic, or is he in the hospital? Infected by other people from sharing needles?

For nearly half a century, a steady stream of emerging viruses-HIV, Ebola and its sister Marburg, SARS, MERS, and the new crown pneumonia virus that threatens all mankind now makes Preston more convinced: this is actually It is an immune response initiated by the earth itself, “even, you can regard it as a kind of revenge of nature.”

“These pathogens are also one of the forces of nature. When humans, a parasitic species, multiply and ruthlessly destroy and destroy ecosystems, viruses that are originally far away from humans have more and more opportunities to come into contact with humans and invade. Human beings will even cause a global pandemic like today, which will cause devastating blows to human life and the entire social system.”

“If mankind does not learn from it, I am sure that such great crises will repeat itself frequently in the future.” He sighed heavily.

“The FBI gave me an award”
Perennial tracking of high-risk pathogens and the public health crises they cause has given Richard Preston a strong sense of crisis and a sense of mission to find a strong story to tell the public about this potential crisis.

After completing “Blood Plague”, he began to realize that the scientific community may have overlooked a very important thing-future terrorists may use dangerous biological weapons to achieve attacks.

He began to consciously contact FBI agents and biochemical experts to conduct interviews and information gathering for related topics. Unfortunately, the senior official in charge of the national security department in the FBI quickly grasped this trend, and then targeted a “seal” within the FBI—”he said, any FBI staff member Don’t accept interviews with Richard Preston and don’t disclose any information to him.”

“At that time, this really made me very frustrated.” But his patience and persistence finally waited for a turnaround-a friend who worked in an intelligence agency secretly told him that a scientist inside the FBI was willing to chat with him privately.

The FBI biological expert would defy the orders of his superiors because he and Preston had a consensus that bioterrorism is threatening the United States and the world. Therefore, it is very necessary to remind the government and the public to pay attention to this issue. The importance of.

Because of the sensitive identity of the FBI and the “informants”, Preston finally decided to present this subject matter from the real world in fictional form.

In the novel “The Cobra Incident,” he tells us such a tense suspenseful story: In New York, an unknown virus is quietly spreading and spreading. A tramp died violently on a subway platform in full view; five days later, a 17-year-old girl suddenly spewed mucus from her nostril during an art class, then spasmed all over the operating room and died quickly. A female doctor from the local CDC found through an autopsy that the girl’s nervous system had been destroyed. She had a foreboding that there was a mysterious connection between the two violent deaths and must take action before the disease spreads again… …

In 1997, “The Cobra Incident” was adapted and filmed into a TV series. The then U.S. President Bill Clinton deliberately asked for this novel to read, and then summoned a group of experts to discuss the importance of this issue. He signed the Anti-Biochemical Weapons Act that year and revised the federal budget to strengthen national defense and deal with biological weapons. harm.

A few years later, the worries of Preston and FBI scientists became reality. In the fall of 2001, a vicious incident of terrorists spreading Bacillus anthracis through emails occurred in the United States, resulting in 5 deaths, 17 infections, and one The highly suspected biologist committed suicide. So far, the planners and organizations behind this bioterrorism attack remain an unsolved mystery.

“Did you know that after I finished this book, the FBI gave me an award, which is now hanging on my wall, saying it rewarded Richard Preston for the FBI laboratory? Contributions made. So, it’s important to be patient, to be kind to others, and to be good at listening, which will help you break through many obstacles.

“When it comes to writing, my principle is to find the most powerful story, and then find a way to tell it. The story itself has real power. Powerful stories are rare in news reports. It’s a bit like fishing. You have to wait a long time before you catch the fish. What to say, it’s a bit like—when the fish bites the hook, you have to seize the opportunity.”