The Seed of Corruption by A.I. Fabler
The author explained the events that inspired the telling of this story in the following Preface to the book
In June 2004, I travelled to Vietnam, alone. It was a trip that my son, Hugo, and I had planned to make together, but he died at the age of thirty-five from a grand mal seizure in his sleep. So, I went while his memory was still strong, taking the route and the transport modes we had decided upon together. I rode by motorbike, bus, and train from the sodden canals of the Mekong Delta to the freezing hillside tracks of the Northern Highlands, writing down what I encountered each day, wondering how he would have interpreted it all.
While I was there, bird flu was shutting down the markets and daily life, first in Vietnam, then throughout Southeast Asia. That wasn’t the story I was following, though it became the backdrop to my own. My story was of a semi-reclusive wildlife painter, tracking down the source of a counterfeit copy of one of his paintings in Vietnam, while wrestling with a growing awareness of the personal corruption that lies at the heart of his own artistic and financial success. On this journey of exploration of his own moral ambiguities, he also has to deal with the corruption he discovers in the international aid agencies operating on the ground. This is territory famously explored by Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness.
I was following a narrative line developed from a series of events I had witnessed over a number of years, which found unusual endorsement (and amplification) on the ground as I travelled in Vietnam. Like a river, the journey carried me forward into territory I hadn’t expected to visit, until soon, thanks to the bird flu epidemic, I was stumbling into a high-stakes international conspiracy far beyond the capacity of my lead character to withstand. As such, whole passages are basically written just as they actually happened. Others were inspired by what I saw and heard along the way, or in some cases, what I subsequently learned. I filled entire notebooks, which required no redactions after the event. They sit in my desk drawer today, telling it just as it happened. As far as truth goes, this is as close to it as fiction can get. But the story itself remains fiction.
On 22 January 2020, The New York Times ran the headline "As New Virus Spreads from China, Scientists See Grim Reminders". The virus was initially named SARS-CoV-2 after being identified as genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. For over a year, mainstream media, leading scientists, and health bureaucrats worldwide maintained the line that any suggestions that the virus had originated in China’s Wuhan laboratory were "conspiracy theories". Social media sites deplatformed users who dared to even raise such suspicions. During that time, a publisher who had been sitting on my manuscript of The Seed came back to me to advise that there was a need to maintain a united front in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and avoid anything that encouraged "conspiracy theories".
To label a belief as a "conspiracy theory" is to imply that it’s false. More than that, it implies that people who accept that belief, or even those who want to investigate whether it’s true, are irrational. The term is used to stigmatize and marginalize people whose beliefs conflict with the officially sanctioned or orthodox beliefs of the time (whether rightly or wrongly). ^
So, why did that publisher take fright at the possibility of a "conspiracy theory" label?
The answer, perhaps, lies in the parallels that emerged between the bird flu version of SARS and COVID-19. The Seed of Corruption takes place during the former. It was not common knowledge then that both China and the United States were experimenting with the manipulation of SARS viruses in contravention of international protocols, just underreported.
In contrast, it was no secret that the United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was a major shareholder in the company that developed the drug Tamiflu in response to the bird flu pandemic hysteria promoted at the time, or that the US military under his command stockpiled this drug and persuaded up to sixty allied nations to do the same, at huge cost, despite Tamiflu having little or no preventative or curative effects. It was no secret—just underreported.
For some time, The Seed of Corruption was an unfinished story … prophetically, as it turned out.
At the end of the day, writers, being human, have to allow themselves enough faith in humanity to be able to get up the next morning. Faced with mankind’s iniquity, they’re tempted to pull the last punch rather than land it. That’s what I did when I stopped writing The Seed of Corruption in 2019. And look what happened next: COVID-19, a virus concocted from a witch’s brew of lies, corruption, incompetence, and greed, spread disease and insanity across the world with a speed and ease that no creative writer would have dared to imagine possible. How will that story end? With the truth underreported would be my guess.
This story is far from over. In mankind’s competition between good and evil, I don’t yet have the courage to declare a winner.
—A.I. Fabler, 2022
^ Refer to "Conspiracy Theories: The Philosophical Debate", ed. David Coady 2019, pub. Taylor & Francis
A Q&A interview with A.I. Fabler can be read HERE