Friday, April 13, 2012

Casual Shorts 7: Dean R. Koontz, Killerbot (1969)


  • Pohl, Frederik, editor, Galaxy Science Fiction, Galaxy Publications, May 1969. pp 85-96
  • Koontz, Dean R., Dark of the Woods / Soft Come the Dragons (as "A Season for Freedom"), November 1970. pp 85-97
  • Hoskins, Robert, editor, The Future Now: Saving Tomorrow (as "A Season for Freedom"), Fawcett Crest, 1977. pp 146-159
Rating: 3/10

Best-selling horror author Dean R. Koontz began his writing career with a surprisingly long list of silly science fiction novels, often published under the pen-name Deanna Dwyer. With titles such as Beastchild (1970) and Anti-Man (1970), I am not surprised that they haven't been rolling off the printing presses since their initial publication. Some of his early novels were published as part of the series of Ace Double Books which combined two shorter novels by unknowns in order to tempt better sales. Koontz's first, Star Quest (1968) was published alongside a title that was dated even then, Doom of the Green Planet, written by wholly forgotten (if ever known) author Emil Petaja.

The year after it was first published in Galaxy, Koontz's short story "Killerbot!" was re-titled "A Season for Freedom" and included in a Koontz Ace Double, one side of which was his novel Dark of the Woods (never reprinted), and the other a collection titled Soft Come the Dragon which included the reprint. "A Season for Freedom" last saw print in a paperback anthology edited by Robert Hoskins, idealistically titled The Future Now: Saving Tomorrow. This anthology, while mostly forgotten, gave Koontz a fair amount of exposure as he was included among established science fiction authors such as Ursula K. Leguin, Isaac Asimov, Pooul Anderson and 1969 Galaxy editor Frederik Pohl.

Normally when a story by a popular author hasn't seen print since the mid-1970s, it's often telling of the story's dated theme or naive idealism. Surprisingly though, "Killerbot!" is not a terrible story, and is even somewhat interesting. Unlike many of Koontz's works, this one has a point. Don't get me wrong: while not terrible it's certainly not a good story either.

Somewhere in an undefined future Euro and Noramer are at war. Euro has changed the face of the war by creating killerbots: humans who have been transformed into killing machines, with a limb or breast removed and replaced with a weapon, either a dart or a gun. Phil Jacobs is called in to take down a bot that has appeared in a downtown building, and he soon realizes this machine is different. For one thing it has both bullets and darts, and for another it appears to be sentient.

The bulk of the story deals with Jacobs and his men trying to take the bot down, and only at the end, following a little twist, are we given a didactic speech along the lines of what have we done to ourselves. The story would have worked better had it dedicated more space to these future nations, and we could learn about the society a little. There are some distracting technological inconsistencies, as humanity has the ability to build cyborgs as well as cars that respond to fingerprints and are self-driven, yet buildings and furnishings are all of wood and concrete and telephones sit in their cozy cradles. I do like the title "Killerbot!" (though would do away with the exclamation mark), as it's evocative and frightening (though as evocative or frightening as the title of his earlier story "The Kittens"). The story was re-titled "A Season of Freedom" likely in order to generate better balance between adventure and social commentary, which it doesn't. In fact, the social commentary sticks out so much that I wonder if Galaxy editor Frederik Pohl was partially responsible for the additional emphasis.

Finally, in line with my review of Koontz's horrid novel Twilight Eyes, a novel that made me swear I'll never read another Koontz book again, I will take a moment to poke at a few sentences. First there's "...Cullen said, anxiety riding his voice with keen spurs." To add to the technological confusion, we have have metaphors evoking the old west. And then there's ... but I can go on too long.

A final note: the story has no accompanying illustration. (Personally I would've liked to see the darts exploding from the woman's breasts.)

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

Koontz's rather baroque sf and fantasy is mostly OP, I suspect because he thinks the audience for his terrible suspense novels wouldn't much care for them. I recently did a post of Jeff Jones cover art, which included his nice paintings for the Koontz Ace double.

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