The First Horseman and The Fictional World of Archives

Original Novel Title: The First Horseman

Author: John Case

Publisher: New York, NY: Random House, August 1998 (hardcover); New York, NY: Ballantine Books, June 1999 (paperback)

All quotations are from the Ballantine paperback edition.

A biogenetic-terrorist thriller, Case's second novel is based on an actual search for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic virus in frozen corpses. The heroine, spunky Annie Adair, uncovers a vital clue in the last half when she learns the cause of flu outbreaks around the United States: an "archival flu" strain.

"They got an archival flu, that's what I was trying to tell you on the telephone."
She was up and pacing. "I just talked to a friend from CDC. Most of us have access to a genomic database that stores the nucleotide sequences of flu strains--it's how we track what's out there, how we do comparative studies, how we spot new variants. ... All these people who got sick, Frank--people in four different geographical locations--they got a flu that is genetically identical to a strain called..." She paused, to look at the white pad next to the telephone. "A/Beijing/2/82." She threw her hands out to the side. "Well, that just doesn't happen."
"Why not? What's 'A/Beijing--'"
"It's a strain of influenza that was first identified in China. In February, 'eighty-two. And here it is again. But that can't happen, Frank. Influenza is in a constant state of mutation. That's what influenza does. It's unstable. It mutates. You don't get exact replicas of sixteen-year-old strains.
(p. 294-95)

A few pages later Annie uses an electron microscope and "the central NIH database" with its "visual archive of influenza virus samples" (p. 303) to discover the terrifying secret behind the suspicious flu outbreaks.

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CONTENTS: The Fictional World of Archives

Submitted by David Mattison, 1999.09.10. Updated 1999.09.10.