Fantastic Reviews - Horror / Dark Fantasy Book Review
cover Fall of the Dream Machine The Fall of the Dream Machine by Dean R. Koontz

Ace Double - copyright 1969
(bound with The Star Venturers by Kenneth Bulmer)
129 pages

Book read in June 2001

Rating: 5/10  (Mildly Recommended)

Review by Aaron Hughes

       Dean Koontz is known as a horror/suspense writer who often uses science fictional elements.  Early in his career, when The Fall of the Dream Machine appeared, he was known instead as a science fiction writer who often used horrific or suspenseful elements.  The distinction may sound subtle, but for Koontz it proved the difference between being an obscure writer in an often overlooked genre to being one of the best selling authors in the world (although I imagine Koontz would attribute this transition at least in part to improvement in his writing skills).

       It is easy to see from The Fall of the Dream Machine why Koontz gravitated toward the horror genre.  Throughout the novel he revels in unnecessarily gruesome imagery, especially, for some reason, graphic descriptions of detached body parts.  More importantly, he has a knack for conveying the nightmarishness of his dystopic future, in contrast to many science fiction writers who can describe a dystopia but not really bring the reader to feel the horror of living in it.

       The Fall of the Dream Machine stems from Koontz's fascination at the time with Canadian writer and communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, who came to prominence in the late 1960's for his theory that how information is communicated is more important than what information is communicated. McLuhan's famous declaration "The medium is the message" is unintentionally misquoted in Koontz's foreword as, "The medium is the massage!"

       In The Fall of the Dream Machine, the medium is "Show." Through virtual reality-style technology, viewers of Show can experience all the sensations that Show's actors and actresses do, in real time.

       Our protagonist Mike Jorgova is one of Show's best actors.  He spends his days engaging in activities Show's producers think viewers will enjoy, nearly always culminating in boffing his attractive co-star.  Mike has tired of his lifestyle, but he is not permitted to retire.  The story begins when he is helped to escape by a mysterious organization of people rebelling against the system and, specifically, against Anaxemander Cockley.

       Cockley is the man who orchestrated the ascendance of Show as the dominant form of entertainment in the future.  As the driving force behind Show, he has become the richest and most powerful person in the world.  Cockley derives huge revenues from Show's subscription fees and from viewers' purchases of products subliminally advertised by Show's sponsors, also owned by Cockley. Viewers squander their entire lives watching Show and ordering products which they can only afford thanks to government handouts they receive from a federal government that, unbeknownst to most, is also dominated by Cockley.  (You can't think about all this too hard, or it starts to unravel.)  It is not unheard of for viewers to become so engrossed in Show that they entirely lose touch with their own bodies and die.

       Mike is given a new identity and trained by Roger Nimron, a minor government official, often heard to recall wistfully that at one time it really meant something to be President of the United States.  Mike's initial assignment is to attempt to infiltrate Cockley's organization, and inevitably he soon will be spearheading the revolution against Cockley.

       From there, things settle into a rather humdrum suspense story.  Show does play a role in the revolution, but for the most part the struggle to overthrow Cockley is routine stuff, consisting largely of gun battles in office buildings.

       Cockley is a great disappointment as the villain.  After all the buildup of what a super-evil super-genius he is, when we get to see him in action he just seems like an old curmudgeon.  He bullies his subordinates ineffectually and is easily duped by the revolutionaries' ruses.  For this story to take off he needs to be a truly devious, frightening character; he is not.

       Despite these flaws, the ideas and social commentary underlying the story are interesting enough to make this worth reading, even if Koontz's musings on communications media are rather heavy-handed.  (At one point, he actually has the media address us in the first person and discuss Marshall McLuhan!) When Koontz conceived of Show in 1969, he obviously tried to make it as appalling as possible, and yet the entertainment and the consumer culture he envisioned seem all too familiar.  In particular, I found Show's appeal strongly reminiscent of present-day "reality television." The image of boxes of merchandise stacking up in the homes of viewers who have forgotten they ordered any of it, while thankfully still an exaggeration, hits much too close to home.
What do you think? Comments are welcome!
Please send them to:
vanaaron@excite.com
Copyright 2001 Aaron Hughes

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Our book club's web pages for Dean Koontz (includes Koontz bibliography):
Lightning

Links to other related webpages :
Dean Koontz official website
Books and writers: Marshall McLuhan
Review - The Fall of the Dream Machine by Dean Koontz

For information on more science fiction and fantasy books:
Denver Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

This page was last updated - 28 Dec 2010