Sunday, October 19, 2014

Night of Terror #17: 'Stations of the Nightmare'

As the protestors outside my window will not let me forget, I've slipped a couple days behind in the old October blog. One of the things I've learned in this no-movies experiment is that it's not just harder than it sounds to write about a different thing every day, but it's hard to find a different thing to write about every day. All of that will have to suffice for an explanation as to why I'm including Stations of the Nightmare by Philip Jose Farmer, even though (despite its title) it isn't really a work of horror.

Or is it? Here's the plot: A regular blue-collar guy named Paul Eyre is out hunting when he sees a strange craft flying through the air. He does what every right-thinking America would do in such a situation, and shoots it. Then this weird yellow-colored mercury-like stuff stars spewing out, and it changes Paul Eyre forever. He gets a new set of Incredible Powers, his mind begins to sharpen, and he becomes more considerate and empathic. Paul's evolution from closed-off regular guy to interstellar demigod is one of the best feats of writing I've ever seen from Farmer, who pulls of a neat trick of making both the huge changes in Paul and the ways Paul has remained the same equally revelatory (as always, I'll try to avoid spoilers here, particularly regarding the nature of Paul's powers, since the discovery of those is a big part of the fun of this book).

The two works I thought of the most as I read Stations of the Nightmare were Flowers for Algernon and The Fly, both of which are about people who gradually transform into something the rest of humanity can't understand. Unlike The Fly, though, the horror here is mostly psychological, especially as Paul reaches the conclusion that he simply isn't human anymore, and has to decide on how to act from there.

That's a stretch though, and Stations of the Nightmare is for the most part a straightforward scifi novel (it's very to-the-point by Farmer standards, too). But it wasn't just the title that provoked me to read the book in October - another cool feature of the edition I got is the very creepy black and white illustrations that pop up over the course of the story. They range from a dark, expressionistic shot of a hospital corridor to a two-page psychedelic freakout, and the flavor of the book is undoubtedly enhanced by them.

My only complaint is that the story's serialized roots are very obvious, with the plot being capped, recapped and rerecapped so many times I started to feel like I was reading some TV critic.Talk about horror.

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