I checked this audiobook out of the library not realizing it was the fourth in a series of novels. That’s because it’s actually the first book of a second trilogy, which is why I found nothing on the cover about “fourth” or “sequel” or “continuing story” even though I did look for such indications.
By the time I realized I had jumped in at the middle of a story, I was enjoying the book too much to care. I can’t say it works perfectly well as a standalone novel, because it ends very abruptly just when the action is getting exciting. (Fortunately for me, I don’t have nearly as long to wait for the next installment as those who read Lost Souls when it was first released.) But it works just fine without having read the previous three books.
From reviews I read at amazon.com, I may have enjoyed this book more for not having read the previous trilogy, because a lot of readers complain that there is little new in this book. I seem to be in a distinct minority for having not only enjoyed the book but also not being outraged that Koontz cut the book so short and in so abrupt a fashion. I admit I was surprised, but I knew it was part of a series. So I have to wait for the next book, oh well…
This one gave me plenty to think about, though. The whole idea of creating a new race of beings who appear human but are not, who have only contempt for humans and want to destroy them – what does it suggest about the meaning of being human?
The new race is physically superior to humans, but the main differences are in their values. They value efficiency above all, and detest humans for their ridiculously inefficient ways. Why spend time chatting – conversation is just for communicating useful information. They have no use for humor, decorative objects, games of any kind. And definitely no use for children. They are produced – “extruded” – asexually, and childhood is completely foreign to them. They look forward to exterminating all humans, but especially the children.
Does this mean there is something quintessentially human about children? Certainly adults often wish they had back the sense of childlike wonder they once felt, the ability to be wholly in the present moment, enjoying life without worrying so much about doing what is useful or that will look good to other people.
But while there are lots of good moments in childhood, it is also a time of much confusion, fear, and disappointment. Despite the way children are sometimes portrayed as being particular sensitive to deeper truths, I’m not sure how well that corresponds with reality.
What children do unmistakably represent is the human desire and ability to learn, to grow, and to imagine. One doesn’t have to stop learning, growing (except physically), or imagining as an adult, though it often happens. I don’t know how much it happens because of an adult desire for efficiency, and how much due to just laziness or complacency.
In any case, the new race in Koontz’ book has no interest in growth of any sort, and frankly this makes them rather boring. Some reader reviews of the novel complained how boring the new (cloned) Victor is, compared to the old Victor Frankenstein. But who made the rule that villains need to be interesting? People who live up to their potential (morally as well as in other aspects) should be the most interesting, despite the stereotype of the dull do-gooder.
The humans aren’t the only interesting (and morally good) characters in the book, however. There is Victor Frankenstein’s original creation, once a monster but now a good man. There is Erika Five, made by Victor to be his wife (the fifth of these, and luckily for her made only shortly before Victor’s death. Most interesting, though, is Jocko, once a tumor in one of Victor’s creations but now a person of some kind – some very unusual kind.
Much of the humor of the book comes from Jocko’s portrayal, as well as the unlikely pair Mr. Lyss and Nummy. I found Michael and Carson’s banter less entertaining, a view shared by a number of readers – but there are others who are thrilled to see these two back again (obviously they were in at least one of the books of the previous trilogy).
Discussions of what it means to be human can go pretty deep. I looked through some interesting websites about human exceptionalism today. But it’s far more interesting to delve into these questions in the context of a novel than a philosophical discussion. After all, that ability to imagine fictional worlds is itself an aspect of human exceptionalism.
And that’s another whole subject. Perhaps I’ll get into it more after I’ve read the next book in the series.