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Pandemonium Paperback – 15 Nov 2008
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Top customer reviews
Pandemonium is a novel set in a world exactly like ours, except for one thing – possession is real, and can happen to anyone. The story’s protagonist Del, experiences one such possession in his childhood, after a swimming accident. Now many years later, Del is involved in a car crash and the demon – known as the Hellion – is back inside his head. Del struggles with this other being fighting for dominance inside his own head. Del also struggles with having no recollection of his night time wanderings (or wolfing out, as he labels it) in which the demon is most active. Pandemonium follows Del in his search for someone who can help him be free of the Hellion inside his head.
The premise alone for this book blew me away. Imagine living in a world where at any moment a being could take over your whole person and force you to do whatever it likes? Firstly although on goodreads and Amazon the book is pegged as a horror, Pandemonium does not really fall into any particular genre. There are elements of science fiction, horror and a few other things besides. I’d recommend it to readers who enjoy alternative histories, the work of Philip K. Dick and anyone who loves a puzzle as this book kept me guessing right to the very end.
The story opens with Del in an airport, witnessing a possession taking place in another passenger. This moment for me felt incredibly realistic as the demon now in control of the man starts making a picture on the floor using materials around the airport – being possessed by the demon known as ‘the painter.’ The people around him have no choice but to stand around him, the police have cordoned off the area, and people begin to grumble about the delay – as they would do in everyday life. These little snapshots of people in the background made the story feel incredibly realistic. Most notable are the conferences on possession, the scientific experiments and the protests – these all make it seem like demon possession is something that could easily happen in our world.
Author Charles Coleman Finlay states “Look out, Lethem! Daryl Gregory mixes pop culture and pathos, flavoring it with Philip K. Dick. Pandemonium possesses every quality you want in a great novel, and the good news is it’s only his debut.” This is something I really loved. I’m a massive science fiction fan, and the pop culture references are just great, Philip K. Dick is featured, being possessed by a demon himself. There are lots of comic book references, which adds to the mixing pot to make a wonderful story.
One thing I must mention before I round off, is that in between the chapters there are little short stories, snippets of accounts of people who have witnessed possessions. It gives you an insight into the different demons in the world, the way they behave and how you can recognise them. I really loved this, it gives you a greater insight into how the possession occurs and why they behave. My favourite had to be the ‘Little Angel’ a demon who possesses little girls, an eerie Shirley Temple type figure, who visits hospitals and bestows the kiss of death on patients.
This is Gregory’s debut novel, and has since published several other novels. Pandemonium is the sort of story that makes you want to run to the nearest bookshop and buy everything he’s ever written (and I suggest you do!) Pandemonium is an exceptionally clever book with moments of great humour, as well as great sadness, and although at times you are not always clear what is happening, it all adds to the suspense of the ending. There is a great twist near the end, but my lips are sealed – I would not want to spoil it! Gregory leaves little hints along the way, and on finishing I found the urge to start from the beginning again, just to see if I could pick up on all the little breadcrumbs. I immensely enjoyed Pandemonium and I sincerely look forward to reading more of Gregory’s work.
Del lives in a world like ours, except occasionally people are possessed by demons: without warning, anyone's body could be hijacked by a single-minded entity concerned only with fulfilling its idiosyncratic purpose. The demons are named for these goals: The Truth murders liars, The Painter draws the same scenes every time using whatever material is to hand, and Smokestack Johnny just drives trains really fast. Though churches, scientists and psychologists all do their best, no-one can explain what these entities are, why they behave as they do, or why some people seem more prone to possession than others. Del, himself a survivor of childhood possession by The Hellion, becomes increasingly convinced that his sanity depends on answering these questions. His quest is interspersed with vignettes of various demons in action, though always from an observer's viewpoint.
Del himself is an amiable if hapless character, his increasingly concerned family are well-drawn and plausible, and their conversations are convincingly depicted. Some of the rest of the cast feel more like characters than people - notably bonkers ex-exorcist (and Sinead O'Connor doppelganger) Siobhan O'Connell - though this could well be intentional as the novel wrestles with questions of identity and purpose, as do many of the characters. It's not just part of the setting - the fact of possession changes the world subtly yet profoundly, turning free will and archetypes from abstractions into matters of life and death. It put me in mind of the (awesome) Ted Chiang short story 'Hell Is The Absence Of God', in which angels appear - unpredictably and inexplicably - in the modern world, often causing horrendous collateral damage. Both explore their high concepts without sacrificing action or character, though 'Pandemonium' is (perhaps inevitably) less spare and focused, with some scenes and characters that feel either extraneous or underused. Nevertheless it's a good fast-paced read; and fans of fiction which literalises metaphysical conundrums will appreciate the cameo by Philip K. Dick, who may or may not be possessed by a demon called VALIS...
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Demons disrupt the lives of the people they possess, and they have disrupted American lives in general. The assassination of Eisenhower by the Kamikaze and the televised execution of OJ Simpson after his not guilty verdict by the Truth have left a mark on the American soul. Also, apparently, Eisenhower's premature death catapulted Nixon into office, who instituted a war on demons, with concentration camps, and something unspecified but apparently awful about Japan.
Del is a survivor of the Hellion. As a child, he was possessed by the Hellion. Although it seems that he was released, he's not sure that the Hellion ever really left, and he wants a cure.
That premise puts Del on the road, and we see something of this strange world, with conferences on demon possession, and groupies who have bit more interest in possession than is reasonable, and fringe groups who have their own strange theories and defenses against demons.
There were a couple of features that captivated me.
First, was the cameo from a certain science fiction writer named "Phil," who did not die in 1983, when he became possessed by the demon VALIS. Likewise, the brainless argument about how to pronounce "Van Vogt" has to warm the heart of any long term science fiction fan.
Second, I liked the chapters which featured backstories of some of these strange demonic avatars or cultural projections. The stories were almost worthwhile as standalone stories.
Third, I like books where I am intrigued enough to fact check the author. In that regard, I liked the elements involving Carl Jun and Jungianism - it seems that we haven't seen stories involving the "collective unconscious" in decades. The references to the Red Book interested me enough to look it up and find out that there really was a Red Book.
Fourth, I liked the idea of a science floundering about with something it can't explain. The variety of theories and the efforts to quantify and postulate in terms of materialism rang true.
The story was engaging and well-written. It introduced characters I cared about and had a resolution that worked. I thought the logic and mythology of this strange world was captivating and intriguing.
Meet Del, a young man that's had his own brushes with and experiences with demon possession. Except he believes there may be something a little different to his episodes and is determined to get help for it.
I liked Del. He wasn't exactly Harrison Harrison (from "We Are All Completely Fine" or "Harrison Squared") but he did have a little bit of that smarm and charm to him that Gregory's good at injecting into his protagonists. The side characters in this were also great, with Del's brother, Lew, being a favorite.
I'm not going to say much else for fear of revealing too much. What I love about Gregory's stories is that they're twisty and turn-y journeys with great concepts and characters, and I want everyone to get to enjoy the ride!
There are so many facets of the book that intrigue and delight: branded demonic possession; brothers and families; homage to the great PK Dick and friends; redemption; re-invention. Reading this book at a convention attended by Tim and Serena Powers added a real connection for me as well.
Most impressive for me was the writing itself. Mr. Gregory's work reminds me of other favorites of mine, Jonathan's Carroll and Lethem, whose books wonderfully intermix the weird with the achingly familiar.
In short, his is a seductive new voice in speculative fiction.