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Friday, July 30, 2010

Disappointment "Under the Dome"

Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman

To say that the ending to Under the Dome is anticlimactic is an understatement. To say, moreover, that it is sophomoric is to put the matter mildly. It is both a letdown and a disappointment.
King’s characters have suffered, most of them greatly; many of them have died. Were they real, flesh-and-blood people, the survivors would be traumatized, probably for life, by the death and destruction they have seen. Their friends, neighbors, and families, children included, are dead; their homes and businesses have been destroyed; their lives are in ruins. Why? What has caused this wholesale loss?

It could be argued that much of the death and destruction stems from the machinations of the greedy, self-serving, power-mad, criminal Big Jim Rennie and his cohorts. In the guise of doing what is best for the town, Big Jim has caused more than a good deal of mischief. He has abused his constituents, neglected the community’s real needs, and capitalized by pandering to the townspeople's weaknesses and fears. He has profited from the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine; he has ordered others to commit arson and violence; he has encouraged the incitement of a riot; he has murdered people with his own hands and has covered up the murders of others by his son. He has set friend against friend and neighbor against neighbor. His ordering of a raid against the drug addicts who hold hostage the propane tanks that he stole from the local hospital and other businesses to fuel his illegal drug operation resulted in a conflagration that decimated the homes and businesses of the thousands who also perished in the inferno, burned alive. Throughout the crisis that began with the descent of the dome and the many others that he himself created, Big Jim prospered while others suffered and died.

The townspeople are not blameless; both as children and as adults, they, too, have participated in the evils that befall themselves and others. Even the heroes and heroines of King’s novel have past sins for which to atone.

There are few true innocents under the dome, apart from infants such as Little Walter Bushey and the canines Horace, Clover, and Audrey.

Some citizens are guiltier than others: Big Jim Rennie, Junior Rennie, Pete Randolph, Georgia Roux, Frank DeLesseps, Melvin Searles, Carter Thibodeau, Stewart and Fern Bowie, Roger Killian, Joe Boxer, Phil Bushey, Lester Coggins, and Sam Verdreaux.

A few, the children, are innocent or relatively innocent: Joe McClatchey, Norrie Calvert, Benny Drake, Judy and Janelle Everett, Ollie and Rory Dinsmore, Alice and Aidan Appleton. However, as Julia Shumway’s account of the “watershed moment” in her own girlhood indicates, even children are capable of cruelty and evil.

Other characters are not developed enough for the reader to determine their guilt or innocence: Rose Twitchell, Anson Wheeler, Marty Arsenault, Rupert Libby, Stacey Moggin, Ron Haskell, Ginny Tomlinson, Dougie Twitchell, Gina Buffalino, Harriet Bigelow, Jack Cale, Johnny Carver, Lissa Jamieson, Claire McClatchey, Alva Drake, Tony Guay, Pete Freeman.

Finally, still other characters are guilty not because of corruption or meanness, but because of personal weaknesses or a significant, but lone, moral failure: Andréa Grinell, Andy Sanders, Dale Barbara, Angie McCain, Dodee Sanders, Freddy Denton, Piper Laurie, Rusty and Linda Everett, Romeo Burpee, Samantha Bushey, Stubby Norman, Brenda Perkins, Thurston Marshall, Carolyn Sturges.

King is careful, in most cases, to indicate his characters’ various moral offenses or failings, which include drug addiction, alcoholism, child abandonment, sexual promiscuity, adultery, henpecking, negligence, a reluctance or unwillingness to involve oneself in social and political conflicts and the duties of citizenship, assault (physical, sexual, and verbal), murder, malfeasance, theft, arrogance, a greater concern for economic advancement than for ending human suffering.

King suggests a practical means of distinguishing good from evil. Moral actions help others (or, presumably, oneself); immoral actions hurt others (or, presumably, oneself). In addition, in quoting Jimi Hendrix, the author suggests another, more nebulous criterion for determining what behavior is good and desirable and what behavior is bad and undesirable: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the earth will know peace.” For the most part, his characters’ deeds and misdeeds fit into one or the other of these classification systems. Clearly, Big Jim’s actions are motivated by a love of power rather than by the power of love; likewise, his behavior has a harmful, more than a helpful, effect on others, including his son (and, ultimately, himself). In other cases, the classifications are not as clear cut, but the moral theory that King suggests seems applicable to their conduct, nevertheless. Human behavior’s effects, whether good or evil, desirable or undesirable, right or wrong, continue beyond individuals' lives, effecting the lives of their posterity. Police Chief Howard Perkins’ collection of evidence against Big Jim certainly influenced the events that transpired in the town long after his own demise. Likewise, the lesson in humility that Julia Shumway learned when she was abused as a child by her classmates at the Commons’ bandstand had a definite effect upon her behavior in begging the alien child for mercy at the end of the novel and was critical in the salvation of the remnant of the townspeople.

In his exploration of moral and immoral behavior and the effects of both upon the human community, both present and future, King’s novel offers penetrating insights and a good deal of food, as it were, for thought and is a rewarding read. The story itself is also a fairly suspenseful, almost always intriguing, and entertaining experience. Like most of King’s other novels, this one is apt to stay with the reader, to become part of who he or she is. This is certainly a test of effective, even of good, literature.

The test, perhaps, of which characters King finds worthy of salvation is indicated in his catalogue of final survivors, which appears on page 1066 of his novel. If this is true, one can extrapolate from what the omniscient narrator and the characters themselves have revealed concerning these characters’ past deeds and misdeed:

(On page 997, according to the omniscient narrator, “on Saturday morning. . . “just thirty-two” survivors remained of the town’s population:
  1. Aidan Appleton
  2. Alice Appleton
  3. Dale Barbara
  4. Harriet Bigelow
  5. Gina Buffalino
  6. Romeo Burpee
  7. Little Walter Bushey
  8. Ernest Calvert
  9. Joanie Calvert
  10. Norrie Calvert
  11. Ollie Dinsmore
  12. Alva Drake
  13. Benny Drake
  14. Linda Everett
  15. Janelle Everett
  16. Judy Everett
  17. Rusty Everett
  18. Pete Freeman
  19. Tony Guay
  20. Lissa Jamieson
  21. Piper Libby
  22. Thurston Marshall
  23. Claire McClatchey
  24. Joe McClatchey
  25. Big Jim Rennie
  26. Julia Shumway
  27. Carter Thibodeau
  28. Ginny Tomlinson
  29. Dougie Twitchell
  30. Rose Twitchell
  31. Sam Verdreaux
  32. Jackie Wettington
By page 1066, seven others (Aidan Appleton, Ernest Calvert, Benny Drake, Thurston Marshall, Big Jim Rennie, Carter Thibodeau, and Sam Verdreaux) have died, bringing the total number of survivors to twenty-five. 
  1. Alice Appleton (child)
  2. Dale Barbara (Army colonel; cook)
  3. Harriet Bigelow (elderly woman)
  4. Gina Buffaloing (volunteer nurse)
  5. Romeo Burpee (department store owner)
  6. Little Walter Bushey (baby)
  7. Joanie Calvert (mother)
  8. Norrie Calvert (child)
  9. Ollie Dinsmore (child)
  10. Alva Drake (mother)
  11. Linda Everett (police officer)
  12. Janelle Everett (child)
  13. Judy Everett (child)
  14. Rusty Everett (physician’s assistant)
  15. Pete Freeman (news photographer)
  16. Tony Guay (sports reporter)
  17. Lissa Jamieson (librarian)
  18. Piper Libby (pastor)
  19. Claire McClatchy (mother)
  20. Joe McClatchy (child)
  21. Julia Shumway (newspaperwoman)
  22. Ginny Tomlinson (nurse)
  23. Dougie Twitchell (nurse)
  24. Rose Twitchell (restaurant owner)
  25. Jackie Wetting ton (police officer)
Barbie did not stop the torture of war prisoners that his team was interrogating in Fallujah. Romeo is an adulterer. Initially, Linda was willing to believe false testimony and bogus evidence against Barbie. As a boy, Rusty tortured ants, burning them alive. Piper still preaches, although she has become an atheist. As a child, Julia was arrogant toward her classmates, thinking herself superior to them. The other adults are unlikely to be blameless (what adult is?), but the narrative does not provide enough information concerning their backgrounds to identify any specific wrongdoing on their part. As the abuse that Julia suffered at the hands of her classmates shows (and as the torture of the residents of Chester’s Mill by the young alien also indicates), children can also be guilty of wicked, cruel behavior, but, again, the reader is not made privy to enough information regarding the children who survive to know exactly what wrongs they may be guilty of having committed. Because of Julia’s humiliation, she learned humility, and she pleads with the young alien who has imprisoned her and the other residents of Chester’s Mill under the dome to release them so that they may live out their “little lives” in a scene reminiscent of both her own abuse (as punishment for her arrogance toward her fellow students) and Rusty’s realization that ants have “little lives” that should not be wantonly destroyed any more than any other life. The alien’s sparing of them may be regarded as a sort of redemption for them, a pitying, if not a forgiveness, of them. Just as one of Julia’s tormentors returned and gave her a sweater to wear home, the extraterrestrial child removes the dome to allow her and her fellow survivors to live out their “little lives,” an act that the novel’s protagonist attributes not to love, but to pity: “Pity was not love, Barbie reflected. . . but if you were a child, giving clothes to someone who was naked had to be a step in the right direction” (1072).

King’s morality (helping others = good; hurting others = evil) is a survivors’ morality. It does not depend upon God or love or anything else but the assumption that helping others is morally proper, whereas hurting them is morally improper. All of the survivors, despite the horrific experiences they have undergone and whatever their faith, if any, may be, or their philosophy of life, may agree to accept this most basic definition of righteousness. It is virtuous to help and depraved to hurt others. King’s characters pass or fail the morality test depending upon whether they help or hurt their friends, neighbors, and families. In quoting Jimi Hendrix (“when the power of love overcomes the love of power, the earth will know peace”) and in suggesting that, while it is not love, pity for another is “a step in the right direction,” King implies that, beyond the simple morality of survivors, there is a deeper, more mature standard for determining right and wrong, or good and evil, which is whether one loves and is loving; he also suggests that, for the majority of human beings, who are morally immature, such an understanding awaits the humility and wisdom that may follow from horrific and traumatic suffering.

The disappointment is the cause of the dome or, at least, of its descent. Earlier in the novel, several possible causes for this phenomenon were suggested, including that the dome was a living entity, that it is the invention of rogue scientists, that it is a means of terrorist attack, that it is a government experiment using the Chester’s Mill residents as guinea pigs, and that it is the work of extraterrestrials possessed of superior technological sophistication. It turns out to be a toy of sorts, and the ones who use it, children. Granted, they are children of extreme intelligence, but children, nevertheless, with no more compassion or love for the human beings whom they torture than children who set fire to anthills have for the ants they thereby kill. The problem with this premise is that it creates a context--a dome, if one pleases--in which adult behavior is perceived by immature, alien beings. They are cosmic creatures, but without the wisdom and love of the omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent God in whose existence Piper Libby comes to disbelieve and, finally, to deny, accepting, in its stead, a belief in the aliens:
Piper Libby. . . was thinking of all those late-night prayers to The Not-There. Now she knew that had been nothing but a silly, sophomoric joke, and the joke, it turned out, was on her. There was a There there. It just wasn’t God (934).
The absurdity of a pastor rejecting the traditional idea of God for one in which the deity is a group of extraterrestrial “kids” is ludicrous. For greater minds than that of King’s own, such as those of St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, Soren Kierkegaard, and Paul Tillich, to mention but a few, such a revision of faith would be not only ludicrous, but also blasphemous. By reducing the complexity of human behavior, predicated as it is, to some degree, upon free will, to conduct that parallels the simple, instinctive, and probably completely determined behavior of ants is itself ridiculous, but then to make human existence a plaything of amoral and sadistic (albeit cosmic) children is to vacate any suspension of disbelief the reader is capable of extending to the author’s work. A belief in the God of the Jews, the Christians, or the Muslims is a basis for understanding human nature; substituting extraterrestrial children for such a deity is simply incredible and silly. Under the Dome is an entertaining novel, to be sure, but, one may be confident in the belief that neither William Golding nor T. S. Eliot need fear having their work confused with King’s novel, the master of horror’s allusions to their respective novel and poem notwithstanding.

NOTE:  Be sure to visit Chester's Mill's website!


lazlo azavaar said...

Yeah, the after-the-fire ending is anti-climactic in the extreme. A bit of an uphill climb. You get the feeling that King kinda painted himself into a corner. The off-stage deaths of some of the characters felt like forced verisimilitude. Sure, it was realistic, but you get the feeling he only "saved" them just to kill them off later to keep us interested while he works things out. Still, for all it's flaws, I feel it was a good read.

Gary L. Pullman said...

I agree 100% with your observations, Lazlo. I think that, like any other writer's works, some of King's are better than others he's written, although, unfortunately, some of his earlier work seems far superior to his later work, which is atypical of many, if not most authors. As much as I (still) enjoy his novels, I doubt that his fiction will long survive his death. However, he doesn't seem all that concerned with establishing a literary "legacy" and I'm sure he's enjoying his millions. He's certainly earned them. Although his latest work is disappointing, I will continue to read him, although more selectively.

Lindsay said...

Anticlimactic, yes. But proper story form has never been King's strength. I am one of his 'constant readers', as he puts it, have been since my early teen years. I have always noticed that his endings usually leave something to be desired..for one thing, his endings are usually happy, benevolent(stark contrast to the gruesome, creepy, evil tone to many of his better works), and very final, as if he's saying "That's it, story's over, you'll never see a sequel!" To me, that's a shame because I get so into his characters that I WANT to see them again! Which brings me to his real strength - his characters. King is a master at character development. The players in his tales become so real, they take on a life of their own in your mind, so much that you can almost see them and think of them as real people. This is an art that not every writer has mastered - Charles Dickens was another author who was talented in this area. King's other strength is his extraordinary ability to take an absolutely ludicrous topic as the basis to his story, something that, upon reading the blurb on the back cover, makes you think "Wow, an evil clown? That sounds effin' retarded." But you start reading it, and somehow..you find that you can't put it down. His imagination, character development, and his ability to make you SEE it more than makes up for his weaknesses. I loved Under the Dome, I think it's the best thing he's done in years. I was sad when I came to the end,I would have cheerfully read another 1000 pages. By the way, I love that you did such an in-depth analysis of the book. I'm saving your blog to my 'favourites' page!

Gary L. Pullman said...

I agree with you, Lindsay, that King is more than competent in the creation of compelling characters. However, his stories, especially of late, seem to become more and more difficult to accept, even as fantasy (and horror is a subgenre, of course, of fantasy). Earlier in his career, he seems to have had better facility with both narrative structure and with character development than he displays nowadays. Not everyone can be a William Shakespeare, though, or an Ernest Hemingway, and, as entertainment, King's novels still manage to deliver.

Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.

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