Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Kraken Wakes: We Need to Stop Hosting Monsters!!

I don't read much fiction, but I loved John Wyndham as a teen, and I realize I didn't love English class because there was almost never any sci-fi on offer - except The Chrysalids in grade 9 was enough to get the binge started. The Kraken Wakes is about an alien invasion, and check out this plot description from Wikipedia:

"The novel describes escalating phases of an invasion of Earth by aliens, as told through the eyes of Mike Watson, who works for the English Broadcasting Company (EBC) with his wife and co-reporter Phyllis. A major role is also played by Professor Alastair Bocker – more clear-minded and far-sighted about the developing crisis than everybody else but often alienating people by telling brutally unvarnished and unwanted truths. Mike and Phyllis are witness to several events of the invasion, which proceeds in drawn-out phases; it takes years before the bulk of humanity even realises that the world has been invaded."

The aliens can only survive in the ocean, where it's pressurized, so you'd think they'd be easy to kill off. You'd think. But they're a far sight more clever than the people. Some characters in the book argue we can just live with the aliens, but others try to destroy them. By the time the aliens move onto land, it feels like it's too late. Spoiler: Japanese scientists save the day, but the population has been decimated by then, with about 80% dead, and most of the world is flooded. Aside: Some mark the first time people worried that fossil fuels will cause icebergs to melt with a Time article in 1956, but ice-caps melting is a major problem in this prescient book published in 1953. 

So Kraken is the perfect label for the newest Omicron sub-variant of concern, XBB.1.5. It's still officially a type of Omicron, not a whole new variant, so it just gets a nickname. There's tons of variability within Omicron - like there's lots of variation within mammals - and we're at a point of trying to work with clouds of variants, but occasionally one rises above the rest. XBB.1.5 is a descendent from B2 and XBB, or Gryphon, a lion-eagle mix. Instead of a B... version, the X initial letter means it's a mixture, aka a recombinant lineage. [NOTE: Everything I know about this is from T. Ryan Gregory (starts about the 60 minute mark), which I summarized here; apologies for anything I've misunderstood. Also note, he explains "endemic" at about 1:24:00 at that link. Lots of people still think that endemic means mild, and it's just not the case.] Ryan is the dude who named this variant from memories of watching Clash of the Titans back in the 80s!!

FYI: Kraken is coming here from the US, not China. Travellers are only being tested from China. Funny, that.

Like in the book, there are some media trying to tell the truth without causing a panic, and professors giving the unvarnished truth, garnering a backlash of haters, and then those in power blatantly lying through their teeth pretending that we can all just live with the virus. And much of the world appears oblivious to the profound dangers we're facing until it becomes too late. The virus seems too clever for us, but viruses aren't living or sentient at all; we're just optimizing its ability to replicate and mutate by offering our bodies as a playground. It can get so much worse! The aliens moving on land could very well mirror the virus surviving for longer on every surface, so we all have to decontaminate ourselves when walking in the door at night - but of course most of us won't. What a twist! (That last bit's just story-writing, not real life - so far.) 

Wyndham took inspiration from this sonnet by Tennyson, who had heard the 12th century Scandinavian folklore of the giant squid-like sea monster that eats ships:

Below the thunders of the upper deep,
Far, far beneath in the abysmal sea,
His ancient, dreamless, uninvaded sleep
The Kraken sleepeth: faintest sunlights flee
About his shadowy sides; above him swell
Huge sponges of millennial growth and height;
And far away into the sickly light,
From many a wondrous grot and secret cell
Unnumbered and enormous polypi
Winnow with giant arms the slumbering green.
There hath he lain for ages, and will lie
Battening upon huge sea worms in his sleep,
Until the latter fire shall heat the deep;
Then once by man and angels to be seen,
In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die.

It's a monster that hides so deeply that we can't see it, where the sun can't reach, but once it makes itself known and is fully exposed, then it can be killed. Hallelujah! 

The current Kraken is a concern because it's very clever at being immune evasive -- our vaccinations and medications might do little to stop it, although vaccines can still help to prevent severe illness, so definitely get vaxxed if you haven't yet!! Kraken makes breakthrough infections more likely so even those vaccinated a fifth time are susceptible to the virus. Some worry it could be as if vaccines didn't exist again. Yikes!

According to blood test studies, 70% of Canadians have had Covid now, up from 5% just over a year ago when Omicron arrived on shore and when we still had mask mandates! That number won't ever go down and Dr. Tam, in that article, says 15% of those 70% of us (10% of everyone) will have long term issues, but we can try to get it to stabilize so it doesn't grow. Except that we're still in the part of the book where we're trying to live with it. We might not actually take useful collective action until so many are affected that we all notice difficult effects on our lives - even the very wealthy.

Jessica Wildfire wrote about this today, 

"When the lab analysts call something the Kraken, you should stay as far away from it as you can. Public-facing experts try to keep us calm. They say things like, 'We'll have to keep an eye on the situation.' Here's the problem: When they say that, they're telling us to hang back and see how sick everyone gets.

That's what the CDC does, too. 

Basically, they wait to see exactly how many people wind up in the hospital before they even suggest doing anything about it. Their reluctance to take charge has infuriated millions of us. Even Eric Topol started making fun of the CDC last week. He's the steadiest guy in the room."

The viruses that survive best are those that spread the best or do the most damage to the host -- so we really, really have to stop being host to these monsters!! Wear a mask whenever you go out and try to get your employer and every business you frequent to post and actively improve their ventilation as needed. (Aim for minimum 6 air changes/hour and a maximum CO2 measure of 700ppm.) It's on us, with the help of all the amazing professors, engineers, and doctors out there keeping us well-informed, to actively make our world inhospitable to these viruses. Nobody else is going to come save the day. 

ETA: Jessica Wildfire's Jan. 3rd post is coincidentally titled: Nobody's Coming to Save Us. Well, it's likely less coincidental and more just our collective reality.

ETA: A new paper says that the XBB.1.5 is as different from the original Covid-19 variant as Covid-19 is different from the original SARS, meaning of course VERY DIFFERENT! It's basically SARS-3, but it's not even granted a new greek letter for political reasons (to make it seem like it's all under control). This shows how broadly different variants can be, and why a new one that forms can escape vaccinations created for former variants. Conclusions: Variants are evolving quickly in partially immune populations, leading them to evade immunity. 

A bit of Wyndham's excellent book:

No comments: