Saturday, April 6, 2013

Odd Apocalypse: Dean Koontz

Many authors who write more than a select number of books get known for certain reoccurring themes. Whether they intend it to happen or not their own likes, dislikes, passions, experiences and ideology gets sneaked into their writing. Even if their name was scratched from the cover their writing is as telling as their signature. Most of the time, and if the writing is good enough, it doesn't matter. The reader is inspired, touched, entertained by that author and his ability to put new twists on old themes and ideals. Other times the routine predictability of an author can be his undoing and the lack of new and fresh ideas leaves long-time readers yawning of something new or at least a newer twist on the old.

And such has become the case for this reader and the author Dean Koontz.

I've read somewhere around twenty-four of his novels and while I have enjoyed most of them, none of his works gripped me as his first Odd Thomas book. It was a breakout from Koontz's usual science fiction, wonder dog, man-made (and making) monsters, gifted-yet-damaged-child, psychological monotony.

Odd (yes, that's the character's name), other than having a peculiar gift of being able to see the dead, was a fairly normal young lad who helped out on the occasional police investigation, was madly in love with his girlfriend and content as a fry cook. He got caught up in a bit of a whirlwind of events that inspired, amazed, broke the heart and left you satisfied by a new twist on an almost ordinary story.

Odd Thomas was a huge hit. And rightfully so. Then Koontz had to go and spoil it by drowning his readers with Odd. After Odd Thomas came Forever Odd; then Brother Odd; Odd Hours; Odd Interlude 1, 2 and 3; In Odd We Trust; Odd Is On Our Side; House of Odd and finally, Odd Apocalypse.

Being an Odd Thomas fan I raced to read Forever Odd which proved to be just as gripping and heart wrenching. It might not have been as good as the first or maybe even better but it was worth the read and still free of the Dean Koontz drudgery I already found myself avoiding in his other work. Then came Brother Odd and I found myself raising my eyebrow in annoyance that such cheap thrills were clouding a good series. I could forgive the author, only because I loved his character so very much. Odd Hours left me wondering where Koontz's brain had gone and I skipped the interludes and any title that substituted the character's name for that of God (not for any religious reasons, it merely bored me). But when I saw Odd Apocalypse on the "new release" shelf at the local library, I had hopes that Koontz would redeem himself and my favorite of his characters. I took it home.

I was disappointed--very disappointed.

Koontz has taken Odd from a standout character of a great book and thrown him in the swill of ordinary and cheap fiction--worse yet, cheap science fiction. Odd Thomas was remarkable for many reasons, none so important as in that it was relatable even as it was fantastical. Odd Apocalypse ceased entirely to be relatable.

Odd started out as a simple character with not many ties but for his close living friends, girlfriend and Elvis Presley's ghost. Since that time we have lost all of the original cast, including Elvis, picked up and lost Frank Sinatra, added two dogs (one alive, one a ghost), an enigmatic pregnant girl no one has quite been able to identify as human and Alfred Hitchcock. We, as readers, have not only lost our ability to relate to the story, it's been torn from us, lit on fire, its ashes scattered in running water which happens to be a flushing toilet.

In addition to the crazies in the form of characters that have been added to the story, the plots have become more and more fantastical to the point they bore. As if a young man who helped solve murder investigations through interacting with the dead wasn't enough we've since added nuclear war, futuristic visions and finally, Odd Apocalypse.

Odd Apocalypse opens with the spirit of a murdered woman on a ghostly apparition of her favorite horse silently pleading for help. If you were tempted to think that the old Odd Thomas was back, your hopes are soon dashed when landscapes magically start changing and giant bats start flying through the sky. From there the story catapults into bizarre encounters with the staff of a 1920's estate built by leading scientists and skeptics of the fearful sort in hopes to harness the supernatural or at least the super-scientific, perhaps even to combine the two. Yes, there is a murder to solve and a life to save but not before getting dragged through time travel, the theory of relativity, pig-human hybrids, time tides and immortality. Add that to Koontz's theories of evil and if you aren't already rolling your eyes you are a more patient individual than I. We even get to pick up another character before being promised another book.

The writing is fast and fun and clean for such dark content, something Koontz is able to do very well. If you want to be shocked by vulgarity and awed by written depictions of gore and unspeakable horrors, then Koontz will never be the author for you. If, however, you like the idea of being a little horrified and mystified without being cussed out or inundated with graphic depictions that will keep you up at night, he is clever in keeping both off of the page while eluding to them. Koontz is an author that attempts to draw a thick black line between good and evil, keeping the good guys squeaky clean to the point of angelic and the bad guys filthy dirty to the point of psychosis. There is very little emotional or legal grey in Koontz's worlds and even the grey he might hint at is only inserted after paragraphs and paragraphs of self-loathing and psychological discussion. In a world known for its greyness, Koontz's world in Odd Apocalypse quickly becomes unrealistic, unbelievable, unrelatable and finally, unsympathetic and boring. It compels you along only in as much as your curiosity needs to be sated, only to leave you completely unsatisfied.

Odd still has many of the characteristics that made him such a loveable and sympathetic character but he's been buried by the baggage of a bad story. I can't see myself picking up another Odd Thomas book. Then again, there's always the hope he might rid himself of his baggage and come back as the Odd I cried with almost a decade ago.

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