Stephen King articles
by Stephen Gallagher, NEL, $9.95. Reviewed by David Carroll
First Appeared in Burnt Toast#1, 1990Imagine being in a situation where you can't trust anybody. Not the police, the government, your doctor, your friends. Imagine having done nothing wrong and yet be watched, used and pursued for reasons unknown. Imagine having dreams about someone half a world away who tortures you nightly. Imagine a place where you are king, a place full of shadows, behind a door anyone can enter, but only you can leave. Imagine being part of the Oktober experiments.
This newish novel, by British author Stephen Gallagher, is a fairly deceptive piece of writing. On the cover it has a snarling dog, framed by nice blue lightning under the words "A story of frightening power". A typical sort of cover for a horror book, and yes, on the back it says horror. But inside it owes more to a story of industrial espionage then the horror novel, and perhaps you may be a little disappointed by this (though it's enjoyable enough for you not to notice) until you reach the end, when you realise it was a horror novel after all.
The plot concerns one Jim Harper, a young English tutor who has a slight accident whilst on a working holiday. Despite some puzzlement about the actual cause of his collapse he almost makes a full recovery, just experiencing some weakness in his left hand and eye. And an irrational fear of dogs. He takes a caretaking job to recuperate and makes three new friends, but then things start happening. He experiences disturbing dreams about a blind magician, and wakes with a strange ache in his back. Slowly he realises that all is not normal and he starts running, in search of the women with the knowledge to help him. But while his paranoia is growing daily, perhaps he is never quite paranoid enough.
Meanwhile in Asia a women is making some interesting discoveries about a group of comatose patients. People injected with an impure drug that has somehow connected their thoughts as they are "looked after" by their sadistic, and blind, caretaker. And on the way it's also about computer hacking and the nightmare country of the sub-conscious.
It's also an extremely well written book. Its plot-structure and characterisation are spot-on and it is able to maintain a fine edge of unease through-out. With only a few exceptions, those we don't get to know well enough, the characters are well-rounded and all have believable motivations. Bruno, the callous keeper of the kennels at a secret Swiss laboratory, the two tragic friends Steven Fedak and Terry Sacks, the somewhat confused Linda, and Rochelle who is anything but, plus a score of minor characters, all play there parts in the education of our rather naive hero as he learns about the world the hard way.
Oktober's a fairly quiet novel, perhaps lacking a little in pace, but making up for it with a fine attention to detail and atmosphere. Perhaps it isn't the most thrilling book you'll ever read, but as a though-provoking and enjoyable read it's recommended.
Oh yeah, did I mention that Stephen Gallagher wrote Warrior's Gate? Hmmm, silly me.
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