Reviewed date: 2022 May 20
This is more horror than science fiction. The horror is well done. Dean Koontz can evoke a mood as effectively as I've ever seen it done, and the book kept me up late at night to finish reading it. The story is ultimately disappointing, though. It's all mood and no substance.
Pete Mullion finds himself in his garage but can't remember how he got there. He figures a little amnesia, but it's worse than that: his wife Della says he's been gone twelve days. Dr. Billings gives him a clean bill of health, but he can't just leave it at that.
The Tall Man
Besides the missing twelve days, Pete feels like he's being watched. He sees a tall thin man with black hair and a long nose at a restaurant and is sure he's seen him before, but the man disappears before Pete can approach him. Later, Pete is sure the man is watching their house during the night.
Pete and Della drive up to their mountain cabin to see if Pete had been there during his absence. They find evidence that Pete had started painting the cabin. However, Della notices this is a trick when she discovers the paint is not completely dry. Someone has painted the cabin recently to make it appear that Pete had been there. Also, Pete sees the tall man again.
Pete has other symptoms, too. He loses the ability to do math or to recognize numbers. He can't figure out the proper change when paying the restaurant bill; at the movies he buys three bags of popcorn when it's just him and Della. When he goes to work he can't figure out the numbers in the elevator.
Amnesia Redux: Emerald Leaf Motel
He disappears again, this time for three days. This time when he reappears, he has some fragments of memories: he recalls staying at the Emerald Leaf Hotel. At the hotel, the clerk confirms that Pete stayed there for three days. However, when Pete and Della question the maid, she insists the room was empty. Pete sees the tall man again, watching them. Pete chases, but the man escapes. But this time Della saw him too.
Madness is Telepathy
The next night Pete hears voices. He thinks he's going mad, but quickly realizes that he's developed telepathic powers. He's hearing the thoughts of his neighbors. He decides to go for a nighttime stroll to test his new powers.
Tall Man, in Triplicate
While walking around town Pete detects an alien mind. At that moment the tall man approaches him. His mind is a cold white sphere. The tall man tells him not to be afraid. "We will make it just as painless as possible."
Pete doesn't stick around to figure out what the tall man and the alien mind want with him, or what it is that will be painless. He runs. The tall man, joined by two other identical twins, chases him. This turns into a long chase sequence with Pete running through a warehouse, sneaking through sewer pipes, and eventually getting himself shot--just a flesh wound in the arm, naturally--by a homeowner when he takes refuge in a stranger's home.
Eventually he evades the tall triplets--who are robots controlled by the alien mind--and heads home. It's a trap: the triplets are already there. They have captured Della and control her mind. Pete barely escapes.
He returns later, better prepared. He uses his telepathic powers to launch a mental strike and destroy two of the robots. However, he's distracted by Della's mental scream before he can disable the third robot. He succumbs.
The Four Politins
When Pete awakes, his captors address him. There are four of them and they call themselves politins. They came to study Earth; Pete happened upon them while they were landing and before they could safely hide, and as a consequence, they had to erase his memory of them. It took them some time to successfully operate on his mind, and the resulting loss of twelve days was an unfortunate consequence. The amnesia explanation was insufficient to explain it away. Their second attempt--with false implanted memories of the time at the Emerald Leaf Hotel--was also insufficient, and it accidentally unlocked latent psychic powers. This time they will get it right: they will remove Pete's new psychic abilities, implant false memories, and return him to earth.
Death to Politins
Pete objects. He wishes to keep his mental powers. So he uses his mental powers to kill the politins. As the last politin begs for his life, Pete responds coldly: "You are a threat to the things I want." (Those things being his new mental powers, and the desire to unlock those same powers in Della and in other humans.) Then Pete claims he is killing for love, for his love for Della.
The Real Monster Is Pete
I can't help but think that Pete is a monster. Is that was Dean Koontz was going for? The poor politins are just trying to observe Earth, and they've taken great pains not to hurt anybody. They don't even threaten to hurt Pete--just restore him to the way he was before. But Pete insists on killing them.
I don't like Pete. Pete scares me.