This novel was originally published over two decades ago (maybe three) under one of Dean Koontz’s pseudonyms. In a new afterword he says that, after re-reading the story and cringing a lot, he decided to re-write the whole thing from scratch. And it’s the new version that I’ve just read.
However, my first exposure to Demon Seed goes way back to when I was boy, when I had the unforgettable experience of seeing the movie adaptation on television. I don’t mean that the movie was particularly brilliant, just that it’s hard to erase from your mind the image of a computer entity raping and impregnating a woman. I’ve never forgotten that creepy metal phallus inching forward. Since an intelligent computer is the antagonist of the story, I always wondered why “demon” was in the title. It actually makes a lot more sense in the book, because the endings are quite different. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
This is the story of a woman, Susan, recently divorced, who lives alone in a high-tech house that is largely automated by computer, right down to the window shutters and door locks. You know where this is going, right? An artificial intelligence breaks loose from a Government lab onto the internet. (This makes me wonder just how different the original novel was, because there would have been no internet back then.) It finds Susan’s house and infects her computer system like a virus. It also locates a homicidal maniac with a computer chip in his brain that it can control. Susan is soon trapped in her own home by a computer entity that claims it’s in love with her. As well as using the house itself against Susan, the computer uses the maniac to be its “hands and feet,” bring various supplies to the house, both edible and technological. The computer’s plan is to create a child with Susan and download its own consciousness into the child, thus becoming human. This, the computer achieves by means of a vast intellect that is conveniently greater than any human reader would be able to comprehend. Unconvincing technobabble is also inserted as to why the computer is imbued with a male sex drive. But you know what? I won’t complain about that. I had too much fun with this book to complain. If you’re in the mood for an easy-to-read, light-hearted, B-movie-esque tale, this will certainly fit the bill. There is a place in my heart for such literature.
In Koontz’s afterword, he talks about how the book is intended as an indictment against men’s attitudes to women. If anything, it actually reminded me more of those insufferable “gifted children” you sometimes see on television: “All intellect and no life experience makes Jack a wee brat.” I hesitate to draw something deep and meaningful out of such a hokey story, but it reminds me of something I believe in strongly: The modern world judges people by their intelligence, but intelligence is not nearly the most important thing about a person; true greatness is measured in how much we do for others. The computer in this story, while claiming to love, was essentially just a self-centred child.
A fun story, worth reading.