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Soft Come the Dragons / Dark of thee Woods Paperback – 1970
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[originally posted 17Sep2001]
Sometimes it's great to go back and read the early works of your favorite authors to get an idea of how they got from point A to point B. In the case of someone like Stephen King, it's possible to trace early stories (published in a number of different collections) and see how he got from "The Fifth Quarter" to Carrie, and marvel at the talent all the way through. Then there's Dean Koontz.
Not to say the early Koontz novels are bad. Some of them are, in fact, quite good, especially A Darkness in My Soul and The Flesh in the Furnace. Dark of the Woods is a pretty standard genre novel, though it's got a nice twist to its plot (historical novelist goes to planet to do research and ends up siding with the underdogs) and it moves along rapidly enough—easy when the novel is only 108 pages. Where the book suffers in in Koontz' writing, which is wonderfully overwrought, full of one-sentence paragraphs and repetition, and sounds more like bad romance novels than science fiction. Oh, wait, He WAS writing bad romance novels at the time. (Not that he ever really stopped, but "bad" has become more a term of endearment, and between this and, say, After the Last Race, Koontz' skills at the nuts-and-bolts stuff improved considerably.) There's a very good reason Koontz has allowed very, very few of these to come back into print, and you'll note that any book from before about 1980 that Koontz has allowed reprinting of has been almost completely rewritten. There's a reason.
Old Koontz novels are collectable as all get-out, and if you see one on a used bookstore shelf you'd be insane not to snatch it up, but don't go in expecting an early Whispers or Shadowfires. **
* * *
Dean R. Koontz, Soft Come the Dragons (Ace, 1970)
[originally posted 17Sep2001]
The other side of the Ace Double that included Dark of the Woods is a small collection of short stories, probably most notable for containing the short story "A Darkness in My Soul," which later became one of Koontz' finest early novels. The story itself is rather disjointed, but I say that having read the novel more than enough times to have all the rest of what's in it deeply ingrained, and I miss the other stuff.
The rest of the stories in here are inconsistent, but there's some excellent work. "The Twelfth Bed" is an especially distressing tale about a thirty-year-old who is erroneously placed in a nursing home with eleven terminal patients and engineers a breakout. "The Psychedelic Children" may make you wonder whether you really should have inhaled. The title story is even weirder.
My main problem with the collection is the same problem I had with Dark of the Woods; the writing style in Koontz' early work never would have made the cut today. Judging by the incredible amount of work the man pumped out in the first three years of his career, I've always half-assumed that all of this went straight from typewriter to publisher without benefit of even a cursory proofreading to deal with the repetitions and such. Thankfully, Koontz improved very much and very quickly. ** ½