Miscalibrated Internet Receptor Stalks

When do you realize you've outgrown an author?

I thought of this the other day when I was in B&N —sadly it's my only option for new books— and passed by Dean Koontz's novels in the fiction section. Now, I never thought Koontz was as good a horror writer as King, Straub, or even Barker, but there was a period in the late '80s to mid-'90s where I must've read a dozen or more of his thrillers. They were pretty silly and contrived, with mostly stock characters and dopey sci-fi-tinged plots, but they usually had an interesting hook, and Koontz's prose style was compelling and straightforward enough to grab my attention in the first chapter and hold it — ideal reading for the beach, or a slow weekend, or a long plane ride. He also had an exquisite sense of pacing which he had perfected from years of turning out several books a year. I remember my senior year of college, during a particularly stressful time, that I blazed through Dark Rivers of the Heart, a 700 hundred page epic in which the protagonist must not only save himself from an evil dystopian government equipped with superlaser attack satellites, but come to terms with the fact that his world famous artist father was also a serial killer who kept his victims in the family's barn.

So yeah, subtle he was not. But often vastly entertaining. And that may have been why I kept buying his novels up until the end of the last century, even if I frequently left them half-finished or abandoned them on planes, gave them to roommates, etc. I think the last straw was the one about the evil psychiatrist who secretly brainwashed his patients to commit evil deeds; the heroine was a video game designer, and since I played a lot of video and computer games, and knew people who worked in the industry, I was interested in seeing how her career fit into the plot. This may have been a reflection of the fact that I was no longer a teenager, and was interested in novels in which the characters' livelihoods actually played a significant role in the story.


As it turned out, not that much. Maybe a couple of sentences in the first chapter. The rest of the book was basically a rehash of evil "puppet master" psychiatrist tropes that wouldn't have been out of place in a '30s pulp story — the big difference being that those stories would have run maybe 20 pages tops, and this was a massive doorstop. I suspect that might have been the last time I actually paid for the privilege of reading one of Koontz's novels; about a year after that I got an ARC of his next book, which was supposedly where he dropped horror altogether in favor of more mystical, life-affirming work. (I wouldn't know if that was the case because I only got about 150 pages in; IIRC part of the plot involved a guy who lured people to their deaths but his justification was that their fates were predetermined due to the quantum flux or some such crap.) This was likely where we parted ways.

Keep in mind this was long before Koontz came out as a religious conservative. At any rate, his Baby Boomer version of the "society is going to hell in a handbasket" schtick had been a recurring theme throughout his '90s work, to the point where it became just part of the background noise, along with the shit monsters and the time-travelling Nazis and the super-intelligent Golden Retrievers. All English professors are moral relativists, kids are rude and don't respect their elders, rock music died with Elvis, book critics are jealous of genuine talent, etc. — weirdly enough that all made the novels even more entertaining because it seemed so sincere and fed into the general atmosphere of paranoia. There was one scene involving a rave in one of his early '90s novels that reads like something out of an anti-drug film from the '50s. If you didn't notice it in the earlier books, you'd have to have been colossally oblivious. Yet in some ways it felt oddly earnest — not in the weirdly pandering style of Dan Simmons' recent work. (And he's a guy I really used to admire, and I suspect I may also have given up entirely on — though not just for his politics. Drood was fucking interminable.)

So, that's one of mine. Anybody else?

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