K.W. Jeter

31 Days of Horror Book Covers: #24

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#24: The Nebulon Horror – Hugh B. Cave (Dell, 1980)

Back in the 1980s Horror Boom, every child was possessed, pissed, or eating the souls of their elders.

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Soul Eater – K.W. Jeter (Tor, 1983)

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Forgotten Novels of the 80’s Horror Boom (4) DARK SEEKER

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Los Angeles. 1986. Mike Tyler has forgot to bring his pills with him. The night feels dangerous, and one wrong turn will unravel his life into a never-ending nightmare. He must get home. Streetlights blaze a nocturnal blue. From a neon-lit street corner, a prostitute lingers and catches Mike’s attention, her eyes turning to obsidian stone, and sharp teeth forming within the tear of her mouth. ‘The Host’ is always with Mike Tyler. And not only is it coming back for him. It’s coming back for all his old friends, who back in college were all part of the Wyle Group — a research lab that tried to discover the hive-mind through a drug connecting their inner visions as one. But in the end, only turned them in savage killers that opened the door to an unseen force beyond the darkness. The Manson Clan meets Philip K. Dick’s ‘ A Scanner Darkly’. Okay, folks. Sounds like it has potential. C’mon, a late-eighties horror paperback that touches on the Manson murders, military-tested hallucinogenics, broken families with broken dreams, drug addiction and the Los Angeles homeless. Especially paired with the lurid cover – eyeball in a mouth full of razor fangs; a crooked dream-stretched window in the back; and the fat emerald green font raised from the surface in proper Tor Horror fashion. After reading the first chapter, I could hear a synth-drenched score, like one from Tangerine Dream, playing along with each page. I was hooked and had no idea where this book would go. But as I got halfway through, I realized there was a problem with Dark Seeker. That it achieved its paramount buzz with its set-up, but fell short in the actual execution. Not was much happening – there were teases of things on the edge of sanity bleeding through, there was drama, as well as a comedic episode with a talking corpse, but horror? —not much of it. I asked myself where was the novel’s Charles Manson conjuring up demons from a fractured, drug-induced generation of drop-outs, burn-outs and wilted flower children? Where are the monsters? The psychological twists that should have my jaw hanging in dismay?

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Author K.W. Jeter was friends with Philip K. Dick, and I thought this novel may touch upon the madness of the universe, complete with the cosmic twists and turns, reality un-stitched and turned on its ass. Unfortunately, the main problem is that the mold is more ‘thriller’ than mind-fuck horror. I think the focus goes on the the supporting cast instead of the main players. I wanted to be knee-deep in the muck with the Wyle Group, wanted to see what they saw during the murders, and what they saw as the drug crept back into their seemingly normal lives years later. That’s where I wanted to be. By no means a bad book, just not really horrific. What I did come away with from this book was the use of ‘reflections in a dark eye’. For example, Jeter writes of people seeing themselves reflected in the eyes of others. Once or twice is okay, but as I encountered more of these, I felt I was reading the equivalent of a Lucio Fulci film – extraordinary close-ups of eyeballs. It got too much.

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The ending? Well, it’s memorable. Some may find it refreshing, others may find it the equivalent of a cheap shot. There are strengths to the book, and the main one is Los Angeles itself. Fully realized, Jeter describes the endless roadways, the underpasses, the street corners and movie theaters with much color, much dread. There’s a scene where the orange sun breaks dusk and illuminates a commune of homeless taking shelter in a highway underpass. It is absolutely gorgeous. Otherwise, for West Coast horror of the eighties, perhaps the work of David Schow would be a better, more gruesome fit. And if you seek a story of ‘experiments gone wrong’ (in the mind-hive manner), I’d recommend Ramsey Campbell’s Incarnate, a hallucinatory masterpiece that touches on many of the threads that Jeter brings into this novel.