Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

What if possession was an epidemic? What if the same demons kept taking people over for short intervals, over and over? What would they be? Are they demons? Is the cause religious or scientific? And what would it do to you to be one of the possessed?

These are the central questions of Pandemonium, which was an assured first entry as a science fiction novel. I found little of the first-time stiffness, the over-explanation, the clunky prose. Nope, this one is deftly written, and twists and turns in entirely logical but surprising ways - and I never saw those twists telegraphed. I am impressed.

This skirts the line of fantasy and SF, in part because no one really knows what causes the demons to possess people. And the idea of recurring demons showing up with recognizable M.O.s all over the world is fascinating, from the Painter, who possesses people and causes them to make recognizable pieces of art, to the Captain, who possesses soldiers in the line of fire and causes them to do heroic but often deadly things, to the Truth, who possesses people in order to kill those who are perpetrating lies, to the Little Angel, who kisses sick people on the lips and kills them, somehow. And a whole lot more.

Add to that the idea that most demons have a type, like the Little Angel, who only possesses young girls with long blonde curly hair. Or the Hellion, a Dennis-the-Menace type that only goes after young boys.

The main character, Del, has been possessed once or twice himself, but now fears that the demon he was possessed by as a boy never really left - he just managed to contain it. This shouldn't be possible. What does it mean for his sanity? What does it mean for his future? And can he ignore the increasingly loud rattling of the cage in his head?

I really don't want to give away more than that, but I highly recommend this one. It has the self-assurance of an accomplished writer, and interesting things to say and fascinating ways to get there. I love the inventiveness. And the Philip K. Dick cameo.

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