When you pick up a Dean Koontz novel, you learn to expect a few things. There’s going to be a super intelligent dog and a precocious kid. The protagonists are going to be all sweetness and light, and the bad guys are all irredeemably evil. There’s going to be some quotes from The Book of Counted Sorrows, and one of the characters will launch into a three-page lecture on postmodernism or psychiatry or socks missing in the drier. (Dean Koontz gets upset about a lot of things.) I haven’t really kept up with his books since around the time he got rid of his mustache and gained a full head of hair, but I have very fond memories of his earlier work.
In junior high I was obsessed with Dean Koontz. I had read Watchers, thought it was one of the best things I’d ever read, and immediately tried to read everything else he ever wrote. But it wasn’t enough to read Phantoms or Strangers. I knew what some of his pen names were, and so I would constantly go to the used bookstores looked for copies of The Voice of the Night or Shadowfires. I found those easily, but I could never find his science fiction novels.
Dean Koontz has never badmouthed science fiction, which makes sense, because he uses science fictional elements in his books all the time. But he has been quite critical of the science fiction he wrote when he was just starting out as a writer. Aside from a few short stories and heavily rewritten versions of his books Invasion and Demon Seed, Koontz has shown no interest in reprinting any of them.
Nightmare Journey is a little like Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog”, except instead of uh, a boy and his dog, there’s a psychic man and a creature that’s sort of a bear with a human brain in it. 100,000 years in the future, the world is divided between The Pure, who are the remnants of the human race, and mutants. Jask is a Pure, but once the other Pures find out h’s a telepath, they try to kill him. The bear creature Tedesec saves his life, and the two of them grudgingly team up to find something called the Black Presence. The Black Prescence is supposedly an alien waiting to see if mankind will develop psychic powers, and then it will contact the other members of its race, and the earth will get to join the Dean Koontz version of the Galactic Federation from Star Trek. I assume all the aliens own dogs.
As far as Dean Koontz’s work goes, this is nothing earth-shattering, but at least it was better than Dragon Tears. The ending feels kind of rushed, but I thought it was a reasonably entertaining novel. Had he kept on like this, he could have been a perfectly respectable midlist science fiction writer. However, he decided that hanging out at conventions with filkers and furries wasn’t for him, and he decided to make millions of dollars instead. Koontz’s current work may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think Nightmare Journey shows that at one time he was a decent science fiction writer. It’ s not worth paying 60 bucks for on eBay, but if you luck out and find it cheap somewhere, then you should get it.