The Hot Zone explores a world of the highly infectious diseases that fall under the classification of filoviruses. The three viruses that fall under this category are Ebola Zaire, Ebola Sudan, and Marburg. Being nonfiction, the book seeks to be informative and accurate. It begins with the story of Charles Monet, a Frenchman that worked in a sugar factory in Kenya. Through the character of Charles Monet, we are introduced to the disease, and the way it spreads, as seen on page 16
“A hot virus from the rain forest lives within a twenty-four-hour plane flight from every city on earth. All of the earth’s cities are connected by a web of airline routes. The web is a network. Once a virus hits the net, it can shoot anywhere in a day – Paris, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, wherever planes fly. Charles Monet and the life form inside him had entered the net”
Throughout the book Preston compares the instances in Africa to the discoveries occurring in the America and Europe. He alternates between the stories of hospitals that become infected in regions such as Congo to the vials of blood serum that are sent off to the CDC in Atlanta. This allows us to see the disease in a broader sense, rather than a simply isolated issue taking place in one country. A large part of the book is devoted to exploring the origin of the disease. A few portions of the book look at the possibility that Ebola could be the cause of the end of humanity. How does Preston’s description of the contractibility of AIDS allow readers to perceive the disease? Does the notion that Ebola being an airborne disease evoke a sense of urgency in Preston’s descriptions of transmission?
The disease is spoken about in excruciatingly gruesome terms. We are made aware of the red and black substance excreted from the mouth, the skin peeling off the skin and genitals, the liquefaction of the liver and many other effects the disease causes. The way in which the disease is spoken about varies from explicit details written to horrify us to biological explanations of the disease as a strand of RNA possessing the strain of the virus. Alternating between scenes of people’s deaths as a result of blood splattering from their bodies to the zone 4 area in which Nancy worked in displays separate approaches to disease, allowing us to recognize the way regular people versus medical professionals view it. How do these distinct accounts allow us, as readers, to reflect on our own response to disease? Also, in various parts of the novel, the disease is described by military biohazard specialists as a metaphor for a plane.
Like in many other works we have already taken a look at, the disease is euphemized. Rather than being called its true name, it is referred to as “the epidemic” in French. This was seen in Black Hole when the STD was referred to as ‘the bug’. Similarly, to other novels, the disease is assigned its own agency in The Hot Zone. This can be seen on page 24.
“Having destroyed its host, the hot agent is now coming out of every orifice, and is ‘trying’ to find a new host.”
Not only does it act as an independent body, but also, it acts as a transformative disease. Once it infects people, they change into a new person.
“His personality is being wiped away by which the liveliness and details of character seem to vanish. He is becoming an automaton. Tiny spots in his brain stem are liquefying. The higher functions of consciousness are winking out first, leaving the deeper parts of the brain stem (the primitive rat brain, the lizard brain) still alive and functioning. It could be said that the who of Charles Monet has already died while the what of Charles Monet continues to live”
The way the book is narrated is different from the previous works we have studied, for example there are constant references to the sources of information in order to maintain the work’s credibility. Preston often states who told him the information, and whether he interviewed the person, or he is simply speculating. The book sometimes asks questions, “Did Monet put his hand in the ooze?” (page 16) What effect do the questions have on the readers? Do the questions allow readers to engage in the story? Does the self-reflection of the book causes it to be more credible?
On page 81, we are made to reflect on our relation with the disease and other creatures around us.
“They were two human primates carrying another primate. One was the master of the earth, or at least believed himself to be, and the other was a nimble dweller in trees, a cousin of the master of the earth. Both species, the human and the monkey, were in the presence of another life form, which was older and more powerful than either of them, and was a dweller in blood”.
How do we, as humans, place in the biological process of the world? Are we really the ‘masters of the earth’? Is Preston satirizing humanity?
Take care guys,
Azmyra, Maisie, Sharon and Laura