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What if Carl Jung was on to something?
Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory, reviewed by Peter Sean Bradley
Del lives in an alternate America where demonic possession is a real phenomenon. It seems that there has always been demon possession, but the 1950s saw an upturn in demonic possession with the arrival of demons like the Truth and Smokestack Johnny and the Painter and the Hellion and the Little Angel. These demons randomly jump into people, causing the person to behave in some constantly recurring script, before leaving to possess someone else. The Hellion, for example, possesses blond five year old boys with cowlicks, turning them into something like Dennis the Menace; the Truth dresses up in a trench coat, a fedora and wields two guns in the pursuit of punishing liars; and the Little Angel is a small girl with curls who kisses dying patients, hastening them on their way to death.
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. ( I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I think “Phil” sometimes went by the nom de character of “Horselover Fats”….wink, wink….to those who are deeply into science fiction nerditude.)
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.