Review: Prodigal Son

Series: Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: #1

Knowledge is knowing that Frankenstein is not the monster.

Wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein is the monster.

A questionable phrase when applied to the original book. Full of hubris. A coward. Not really a ‘good’ person, sure. But a monster?

Well, in Dean Koontz’s version… yeah. Victor Frankenstein (now Victor Helios)–totally the monster.

I read an awful lot of Dean Koontz towards the end of high school/beginning of college. He’s quite the writer, capable of writing quite frankly terrifying stories about how dark and twisted humanity can be–while pulling in just enough supernatural elements to make it at onces more surreal and all the more gripping.

That’s more than certainly the case in Frankenstein. A serial killer on the lose, looking for body parts to make the ‘perfect woman’. Victor Frankenstein (as mentioned) still alive and kicking after 200 years, making a whole new generation of … perfect women (and men).

There are so many threads to this story, all weaving in and out of one another up until the–as expected–rather violent conclusion. It’s very much the first book of a series. The big bad isn’t done for just yet. And there are at least a few big threats still on the run. Which can be risky–if a book can’t carry itself, it’s hard to argue for sequels. But in this case, I loved it and need to find out more. So it works out.

Last but not least; one interesting aspect of this book is a focus on autism. There are at least two secondary characters with autism, one with point of view chapters. It’s an interesting take, to be sure, and having autism on both the sides of the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’* is well received. There are stereotypes to be sure (see comments below, warning, spoilers), but I think it’s handled well. I’m cautiously optimistic to see how that feeds into the rest of the series.

Certainly something I’ve managed to accidentally find in quite a lot of books recently.

In any case, one of my favorite books of the year and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes from here!

Highlights/notes as I read. Here be spoilers.

At his side, an elderly monk, Nebo, asked, “Are you looking at the mountains—or beyond them, to what you left behind?”

Although Deucalion had learned to speak several Tibetan dialects during his lengthy sojourn here, he and the old monk often spoke English, for it afforded them privacy. “I don’t miss much of that world. The sea. The sound of shore birds. A few friends. Cheez-Its.”

One of these things…

“Deucalion…,” the monk said. “A name from old mythology—not known to many people anymore.” He rose from the chair, ignoring the throbbing pain of countless pinpricks.

Deucalion. Son of Prometheus.

Works pretty well, all things considered.

Eventually, when he had refined his diet to perfection and when his body was as tuned as an atomic clock, he expected that he would cease to eliminate waste. He would process every morsel so completely that it would be converted entirely to energy, and he would produce no urine, no feces. Perhaps he would then encounter the perfect woman. He often dreamed about the intensity of the sex they would have. As profound as nuclear fusion.

… right.

“Oh, never orange and green on the same plate, Vicky.” Vicky sighed. “He’s got more rules about food than kosher and vegan combined.” On a cop’s salary, Carson could not have afforded a live-in caregiver to look after her autistic brother. Vicky took the job in return for room and board—and out of gratitude.

Want to bet on if this is handled well?

Edit: I think so. Certainly got a few stereotypes in there, but stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. And he’s gotten a few things right that many people don’t.

RANDAL SIX CROSSES SPHINX with XENOPHOBE, finishing the last crossword puzzle in the book. Other collections of puzzles await him. But with the completion of this current book, he is armored against the fearsome disorder of the world. He has earned protection. He will be safe for a while, although not forever. Disorder builds. Chaos presses at the walls. Eventually he will have to fill more patterns of empty boxes with more judiciously chosen letters for the purpose of denying chaos entrance to his private space.

That doesn’t sound overly dissimilar from autism.

By the strictest definition of the affliction, Randal Six might not have autism. But he suffers from something very much like that sad condition.

There we go.

Unlike the vast majority of autistics, Randal Six is capable of extreme violence. His inner rage is almost equal to his fear of the disordered world.

Fascinating. It’s true—autistic people are statically more likely victims than perpetrators of violence, although as with any group it varies—but that’s certainly not how much media portrays it.

His hope had been that this would result in Randal being “born” as an eighteen-year-old autistic of a severe variety. This fond hope had been realized. Having imposed autism upon Randal, Victor sought to restore normal brain function through a variety of techniques. Thus far he had not been successful. His purpose in reverse-engineering Randal’s release from autism was not to find a cure. Finding a cure for autism interested him not at all, except that it might be a source of profits if he chose to market it. Instead, he pursued these experiments because if he could impose and relieve autism at will, he should be able to learn to impose selected degrees of it. This might have valuable economic and social benefits.

Well that is super cheerful.

In a community with many Catholics—practicing and not—Victor found it useful to have one of his people manning the confessional in which some of the city’s more powerful citizens went to their knees. Patrick Duchaine was one of those rare members of the New Race who had been cloned from the DNA of an existing human being rather than having been designed from scratch by Victor. Physiologically, he had been improved, but to the eye he was the Patrick Duchaine who had been born of man and woman. The real Father Duchaine had donated to a Red Cross blood drive, unwittingly providing the material from which he could be replicated. These days, he rotted under tons of garbage, deep in the landfill, while his Doppelgänger tended to the souls at Our Lady of Sorrows.

I managing to keep being surprised as we find more of what he has done.

He opens his eyes, assuming that when he no longer visualizes the crossword boxes in his mind’s eye, he will come to a sudden stop. He keeps moving. At first he feels as if the cart is the motive force, pulling him along the alleyway. Although it lacks a motor, it must be driven by some kind of magic. This is frightening because it implies a lack of control. He is at the mercy of the shopping cart. He must go where it takes him. At the end of a block, the cart could turn left or right. But it continues forward, across a side street, into the next length of the alleyway. Randal remains on the route that he mapped to the O’Connor house. He keeps moving. As the wheels revolve, revolve, he realizes that the cart is not pulling him, after all. He is pushing the cart. He experiments. When he attempts to increase speed, the cart proceeds faster. When he chooses a less hurried pace, the cart slows.

That is such a fascinating mind flip.

Gazing up, in spite of the extreme angle, Michael got a better look at his adversary. He could no longer cling to the hope that he had imagined Harker’s grotesque transformation. He couldn’t swear to the precise details of what he glimpsed, but Johnny definitely was not in acceptable condition to be invited to dinner with genteel company. Harker was Hyde out of Jekyll, Quasimodo crossed with the Phantom of the Opera, minus the black cape, minus the slouch hat, but with a dash of H. P. Lovecraft.

That’s certainly a description.

“Your brother,” Deucalion said, “sees deeply into the true nature of reality.” Mystified by this statement, Carson said, “He’s autistic.” “Autistic… because he sees too much, too much yet not enough to understand what he sees. He mistakes complexity for chaos. Chaos scares him. He struggles to bring order to his world.”

I like it. Even if it’s definitely a mix of wishful thinking as much or more than reality.