The Taking by Dean Koontz
After reading so many deep and taxing non-fiction books lately, I happened to be in the mood for some pulp fiction. What better than a good ol’ unpretentious B-movie-style alien invasion story. That’s what I thought Dean Koontz’s The Taking was supposed to be. I’ve read enough Koontz to know his penchant for melodrama, but I thought I could stomach it, as long as the story was interesting.
We begin with a woman, Molly, waking up in the middle of the night, witness to a bizarre torrent of luminous rain. She quickly learns that this is happening everywhere in the world, and she fears that it is the precursor to something more dreadful. A Lovecraftian apocalypse ensues, filled with otherworldly flora and fauna, and events so bizarre that reality itself appears to be coming apart at the seams. While many of the happenings seem more occult than extraterrestrial, our protagonist makes much of the famous Arthur C. Clarke quote about how the technology of a sufficiently advanced alien culture would be indistinguishable from magic.
As an author myself, there are certain well-known missteps in storytelling that are best avoided. Koontz, to my astonishment, blunders right into them. The first one applies to science fiction and fantasy, where liberties are frequently taken with the laws of physics: any story that fails to establish its own rules about what is possible and impossible is going to be devoid of suspense, because literally anything can happen at any moment to help or hinder the protagonist. In the worst examples of this (and this is the second storytelling blunder), some unexpected happening occurs to get the protagonist out of a tough spot, rather than the protagonist using his own ingenuity. And would you believe it? Good grief, Koontz relies on this very thing. In fact, the heroes walk their way through most of the book, protected by some unseen otherworldly force.
The protagonists are typical Koontz archetypes that he has used over and over again in his books: impossibly noble-minded pure-of-heart characters with ne’er a perverse thought crossing their minds, tainted only by some dark event in their pasts that they have had to overcome. Who but the most self-deluded can relate to these melodramatic caricatures of human beings? Furthermore, the characters glide through through their extreme circumstances with barely a dent to their sanity. It’s like reading Lovecraft with all the madness removed; it doesn’t work.
The book is just over three hundred pages long. It should have been less than two hundred. As it stands, the prose is utterly dripping with unnecessary flowery metaphors and pretentious twaddle. Here’s an example from the beginning of chapter forty:
The mystery of evil is too deep to be illuminated by the light of reason, and likewise the basement of the church, while no more than twelve feet in depth, presented to Molly a blackness as perfect as that you might find gazing outward to the starless void beyond the farthest edge of the universe.
Please! It’s one thing to write artistically; quite another to try and show off. At times, I found myself speed-reading through Koontz’s metaphorical rambles. Oddly, I don’t recall any of his other books being quite so heavy in this regard.
[SPOILER ALERT!] I don’t normally do spoilers, but this one’s too juicy to pass up. Reviews of this book promised a surprise ending. You’ll never guess what it is. After telling a story that looks like the Devil unleashing the kingdom of hell upon Earth (while the author attempts to convince us its an ET invasion), the big reveal in the final pages is … oh, it really was the Devil after all! And so, an already sub-standard War of the Worlds retelling takes a final nose-dive into pseudo-Christian quackery.
In fairness, I experienced a certain degree of enjoyment reading this book, but frankly, a writer of Koontz’s experience ought to know better than to indulge in all the things I’ve mentioned. The fans deserve more. These days, he appears to be little more than a hack writer, churning out book after book, sometimes two per year, using the same old tired formula. Well, this is one reader exiting the Koontz train. No more, thank you.