Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sci-fi Review - Pandemonium

Daryl Gregory's debut novel, Pandemonium, is a fantastic mash-up of classic high-concept science fiction and pop-culture satire. By turns comic and introspective (and often both at once), the story explores the collective unconscious and the nature of the relationship between archetypes and the cultures that create them. Gregory's writing style is refreshingly current, witty and self-aware. He not only acknowledges, but includes his influences in the text itself, folding pioneers of speculative fiction like Philip K. Dick and A. E. Van Vogt into the story itself. The result is as unique as it is well-crafted.

The story takes place in a world suspiciously similar to our own, with one glaring difference - since the 1940's, people across the world have become victims of demonic possession. Innocent men, women and children are taken seemingly at random by a series of entities known only by their implacable actions and obsessions; the Truth stalks and kills liars, the Little Angel (always a little girl) walks the halls of hospitals, dispensing death with a kiss. Theories abound about what the demons really are, what they represent, and how best to deal with them.

Del Pierce was a boy when he was taken by the Hellion, an entity with a lethal case of ADHD. With love and patience, his family drove the demon out. Now it's back, and as an adult Del must search for a way to stop the demon before it takes complete control. With the help of an angry Irish nun, a Creature from a Black Lagoon and a pair of aging Jungian psychotherapists, Del goes on a quest both literally and figuratively to find a cure. Along the way he will find the source of himself and his demon counterpart, and be surprised by both.

Pandemonium makes a lot of unspoken promises. By incurring the name of Philip K. Dick (indeed, by making him a character), it is expected that this novel will test our basic assumptions about life and identity. It is also expected that we will find something new in its pages, and be kept guessing until the very end. Finally, with all of the pop-culture references, there ought to be some fresh reflections about the world we live in. Daryl Gregory delivers on all of these points, and the result is a highly pleasurable experience.