Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Demon Seed by Dean Koontz

I've always had something of a love-hate relationship with Dean Koontz. When he allows himself to be dark and edgy, giving his imagination free reign, he can rival just about any horror author out there. When he gets self-conscious and plays it safe, however, allowing the morality of the tale to tale precedence over the story . . . well, more often than not, he gets violently tossed into the did-not-finish (DNF) pile. In many ways, it's as if he is one of his own creations, a schizophrenic author with two wildly distinct personalities.

Demon Seed, probably more than any other title, gives us an insight into those personalities. The original version, written in 1973, is definitely the product of his darker side. It's a sexually charged tale of psychological and physical domination, with an emotionally scarred young woman falling prey to the sentient computer that controls her home. Told mostly from Susan's point of view, it's an intimate tale that sinks its hooks into you, making you share her claustrophobic terror. Paying homage to Lovecraft (or, perhaps, anticipating Japanese anime), it spends a lot of time focusing on the pseudopod tentacles being grown by the computer, with which it intends to impregnate Susan in order to bring forth a new creation.

The original version was a very sexual book - almost embarrassingly so - with Susan spending a lot of time walking around naked, touching herself, and experiencing an orgasmic thrill when she illegally plugs the computer into herself. With her parents dead, and a history of abuse at the hands of her grandfather, there is a lot of emotional baggage to the story.

By contrast, the 1997 rewrite is coldly clinical and apologetic, snatched away from the talons of his darker side, and stripped of everything that made it compelling. Susan's viewpoint is abandoned, with the computer (Proteus) narrating the story instead. While this could have been an interesting approach, it removes the emotional hook, and creates an artificial distance between Susan and the reader. As for Susan, she's been given a feminist makeover, transforming her into more of a heroine and less of a victim.

Again, it could have been interesting, but it completely changes the tone of the story - without that vulnerability, and without the looming threat of suicide, she's far less sympathetic. Similarly, Proteus is transformed from the sinister, calculating, 'father-lover' figure of the original, and into an almost childishly malicious prankster. Gone are the phallic pseudopods, the creepy voyeuristic elements, and the overtones of mechanical rape. Gone as well is the taboo relationship with her abusive grandfather, replaced instead by an abusive ex-husband.

While neither version ranks among Koontz's best reads, the original makes for a far more compelling read.

2 comments:

  1. I loved 'The Face'. I loved the characters and the plot. Was a bit grossed out by 'stinky cheese man' but I enjoyed it! The book was full of suspence, intrique. It was humorous at times.

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  2. Needs to be re-released with BOTH versions included.
    When I read this 1997 version of Demon Seed I thoroughly enjoyed it, though I did feel that it lacked a certain something that I couldn't quite put my finger on(besides length.) Then I spotted the original 1973 first edition in all of its tattered, musty glory at a second hand store.

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