Saturday, December 12, 2009


I'm a Dean Koontz fan, have been since the days he was writing under a bunch of pseudonyms and turning out books in half a dozen genres. When I was first getting into the writing field in the late seventies, I got a copy of Writing Popular Fiction, in which Koontz laid out the formulas for how-to-write Science fiction and fantasy, Suspense, Mysteries, Gothic-romance, Westerns, and Erotica, all fields in which he had published novels. He knew the beats and tropes. (By the time my first novel came out, in 1981, Koontz had written at least forty books, under ten different pseudonyms.)

When he hit it big doing horror, he reinvented his look. The book cover jackets before then showed a balding fellow with a big handlebar mustache who looked maybe fifty; shortly thereafter, following a hair transplant, and clean-shaven, there appeared this handsome, at least ten years younger guy who, if you looked at the pictures side by side, you'd never guess they were the same man.

I like it that Koontz is an animal lover, especially dogs, and critters smarter than the ones I've owned are frequently featured in his books. Plus he's a pro's pro -- his prose is clean, he sucks you in, and his characters are interesting odd-balls, and flawed enough to be intriguing.

Which brings us to Breathless, the latest Koontz's offering.

It has all the elements of a typical Koontz's novel -- quirky characters with old wounds; animals that make Lassie look slow; and a skying off into esoteric science and math theories that make you really think. (Koontz was, for instance, one of the first fiction writers to deal with nanotech, years before it was a hot topic, and I like being led into new paths that make me wonder.)

The writing here is as clean and evocative as usual, and the action compelling. Some terrific scenes ...

But ...

Have you ever been reading along, caught up in a tale, and looked at how much book you have left and think: Jeez, there's only a few pages until the end. How the hell is the writer going to wrap it up? He doesn't have the room.

My usual reaction when I get this feeling is, oh, swell, this is going to be the first book of a series, and I'll have to wait until the next one, or the third book in what will be revealed as a trilogy, to find out what the end of the story is. Koontz does have a couple of continuing characters I've followed.

Not to get ahead of myself, but this isn't the case here.

From the first chapter, Koontz sets up these fascinating creatures who show up in the woods, the best combination of dogs, monkeys, and people, with big, glow-in-the-dark eyes, and who are so cute as to make giant pandas look hideous. Lab creations? He's gone that way before. Aliens? Could be. Certainly not something anybody has ever seen in these parts.

There are four other stories woven into the narrative, all interesting themselves, and as a writer, I enjoyed them even as I kept thinking: How on Earth is he going to be able to braid these lines into a coherent whole during the remaining pages and have it work?

And the answer is, not nearly as well as I hoped. Yes, the stories are intertwined, and all are related to the main line -- though one is such that I couldn't see any relationship to the plot closer than humans to garter snakes, and pretty much a total red herring.

Without giving specifics away about the resolution, it's all based in Chaos Theory, and the explanation of how the amazing things all came to pass is not just mind-boggling, but for me a suspension of disbelief that can't support its own weight, much less that of me trying to cross it.

The ending is virtually deus ex machina. A character blithely tosses into the trash one of the bedrocks of current science, and offers in its place an update that makes the theories of Phlogiston, Noxious Vapors of the Night, and Intelligent Design seem like works of pure genius by comparison. Rather like somebody saying, You know that old theory that flies arise from rotten meat? Spontaneous Generation? Well, guess what? It's true!

Didn't work for me. As much as I like Kootnz's stuff generally, this one was disappointing because I simply couldn't buy the central premise.

Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you read it and find that it works for you, good.

1 comment:

Brad said...

I haven't read Breathless, yet. I'm a big Koontz fan also, but I feel the last few years he's been rushing his stories. They aren't as tightly written nor do they pull me in as much as they used to. I think the lat one that I really really enjoyed was Dark Rivers of The Heart, but it aslo lacked a certain something.

Maybe it's not the same fella. Maybe when "he" reinvented his look it was because it's not him anymore....

Okay, the Christopher Snow series is good. But Odd Thomas, I don't enjoy so much.

Meh, I'm rambling.