Sunday, November 18, 2012

False Memory, pp. 466-540 (with intervals)

So, as I suggested in my last post on the subject, I omitted the Ahriman parts because they deserve their own section.  Up till now Koontz's portrayal of Ahriman has been mostly annoying.  Certainly we need some scenes from Ahriman's perspective to explain how his brainwashing works and what he is up to.  Koontz does this to some extent, but ultimately leaves a lot of clues dangling and unexplained.  Instead, he wastes a lot of precious time and energy showcasing how evil Ahriman is.  Apparently exercising mind control over patients, implanting phobias to torment them, raping female patients and subjecting them to unspeakable depravities, and driving some patients to suicide and spectacular just isn't evil enough for Koontz.  He has to flash back to Ahriman's past and show him killing both parents, burning down their houses to cover the evidence, dissecting live animals, and so forth.  He also makes him part of a sinister plot to take over the world.

The sinister plot to take over the world does have one advantage, though.  It means that Ahriman is no longer the puppet master in control of everything, in fact, he is no longer any more than a bit player.  And with Ahriman no longer in control, he can be used for comic relief. There is always an obvious risk in the comic villain, of course.  Laughter is generally incompatible with either hate or fear, so a comic villain tends not to be so menacing or so truly evil as a serious one.  But then again, Ahriman has already established his evil to everyone's satisfaction, and seeing the puppet master lose control can be the best revenge.  This is the first time reading about Ahriman has actually been fun, so let us savor it for a change.

Ahriman has a new patient with a most creative and original phobia that Ahriman had no role in creating.  She is the wife of one of those entrepreneurs who were rampant in the 1990's who made a half billion dollar fortune selling designer toilet paper internet stock.  She was was once a huge Keanu Reeves fan, but has now developed an uncontrollable fear of him.

Interestingly to note, her name is never given.  She is simply referred to as the Keanuphobe or, later, when our heroes see her in a pink suit, as the pink lady.  Her lack of a name is striking.  Normally, Koontz gives even very minor characters names.  For instance, all personnel at the New Life Clinic have names.  The nurses who attend Skeet, the doctor on call, the security guard who makes a total of two short appearances, and even the head nurse, whose single appearance takes a single page, has a name.  The lab tech who draws Martie's blood for testing has a name.  The police who respond to Susan's suicide have names.  A few waiters, sales people, and the security guard in the gated community where Skeet attempts suicide do not have names, and that makes sense.  They are seen only from the perspective of Dusty (or Ahriman).  Since the person seeing them does not know their name, it is not given.  Thus far the only other character whose name is known to a POV (point of view) character whose name is not given is the unnamed Famous Actor who Ahriman programs to bite the President's nose off.  Koontz unwillingness to name the Famous Actor (other than to say he is not Keanu Reeve) is understandable.  It he actually identified a real famous actor, calling him a drug addict and as stupid as the character is portrayed, he might get in trouble with the actor's lawyers.  And if he made up a name, people would complain that for such a famous actor, they have never heard of him.  But in any case, Famous Actor is a minor character.  We lose very little by not knowing his name.  The Keanuphobe (as we shall see) plays a major, indeed, critical, role in the story.    Are Internet con men so famous that Koontz couldn't make up a name for one and his wife?

In any event, while shopping and eating lunch, Ahriman notices a red-faced man driving a beat-up old camper truck seems to be watching him.  Furthermore, wherever he drives, the beat-up truck follows. The man's name is not given because Ahriman does not know it.  But we do.  The truck has two very strange antennae on it, and the red-faced man has a passenger -- Skeet.  Ahriman has his manservant take his other car to the parking lot next door.  He then has his secretary, Jennifer, drive his car to the dealership for maintenance and trails the two men trailing him.  Once Jennifer drops off the car, she takes off walking because she is a health and fitness nut.  Skeet and Fig follow her.  Comic scenes ensue.  Ahriman knows that, as a health and fitness nut, Jennifer will eat at Green Acres, a health food restaurant.  His own tastes run more to sweets, as unhealthy as possible, so we get an entertaining scene of him looking around the counter for something he would be willing to eat.  There are actually some chocolate coconut bars "no butter, margarine, or hydrogenated vegetable shortening," but he takes them anyhow, at a discount because the hostess is so relieved to be rid of them.  He also makes comical observations about Skeet and Fig's poor surveillance technique and increasingly starts thinking of Jennifer as a horse, given her taste in food.  He wonders if Skeet and Fig are gay lovers, and if he could endure the sight of them in action while shooting them.  And he notices a white Rolls Royce at Green Acres and wonders how anyone with the wealth and taste to drive such a car could eat at such a place.  (Any guesses what unnamed character that is?).

Fig and Skeet follow Jennifer home and are followed by Ahriman.  When she goes in and nothing further happens, they take the dog out, let him poop, and then collect it in a blue bag and throw it in the trash.  Ahriman retrieves it, not knowing yet what he intends to do with it.  (This, too, will be significant and comical).  He trails Fig and Skeet to the beach.  They wade out into the ocean with their electronic gear, trying to contact UFO's.  Ahriman is baffled, but doesn't have time to figure it out.  Instead, he shoots them in the chest.  "Your mother's a whore, your father's a fraud, and your stepfather's got pig shit for brains," says Ahriman to Skeet.  And this, on page 527, is our first hint that this particular family may be more than random victims to Ahriman.  Just as he is about to shoot the dog, he notices that it is barking at someone behind him.  He turns around and sees the unnamed Keanuphobe.  Yes, the white Rolls Royce was hers, and while Fig and Skeet were following Jennifer and Ahriman was following Fig and Skeet, the Keanuphobe was following Ahriman.  Oops!  She turns and runs and Ahriman, slowed by wading through sand, is unable to catch up.  She makes her escape.

Killing directly, with a witness present, has Ahriman in a most vulnerable position, the more so because he does not have mind control over the Keanuphobe and therefore cannot erase her memory.  She is also rich enough to afford security and prominent enough that killing her would attract a great deal of attention.  But Ahriman has one advantage -- she is a paranoid, and he has a psychological training to manipulate her.  Although he has not used his psychological training much, preferring to use mind control, it is real, and he knows what to do with it.  The patient has watched every Keanu Reeves movie many times over.  So Ahriman calls her and convinces her that The Matrix is real.  (The Matrix had just come out when the book was written).  Really we are all living in pods in a false reality controlled by an evil computer.  Needless to say, this would have been totally ineffective against any normal person, but dealing with a paranoid, it is perfect.
Previously she had sensed enemies on all side,s with numerous, often inexplicable, and frequently conflicting motives, whereas now she had one enemy to focus upon: the giant, evil world-dominating computer and its drone machines. . . . As a paranoid, she was convinced that reality as the mass of humanity accepted it was a sham, that the truth was stranger and more fearsome than the false reality that most people accepted, and now the doctor was confirming her suspicions.  He was offering paranoia with a logical format and a comforting sense of order, which ought to be irresistible.
At the same time, Ahriman has to be aware that he is losing control of the situation.   He is talking the most outrageous nonsense to a crazy person and becoming aware that he is starting to sound (and feel) crazy himself.  His goal is to get the Keanuphobe to come to his office so that he can program her and make the problem go away.  He is hopeful.

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