A Darkness in My Soul by Dean R. Koontz (1972)
The year is 2004, thirty-two years after the book was published, and the world has significantly changed -- and not for the better. America and Russia are allies, China and Japan are our enemies. Was is on the horizon and the potential weapons are horrifying. Artificial Creation (AC) has spent years trying to produce a superhuman, after having created their first and only success in Simeon Kelly, now a twenty-year-old esper, capable of entering others' minds. For eleven years, Simeon has been working as a contract employee AC, a.k.a., the Government. The first nine years of his life were spent as AC property until the Supreme Court allowed him his personhood.
Now Simeon discovers that he was not AC's only success. There is the withered and distorted three-year-old with no given name -- only called the Child. The Child is much more powerful than Simeon. With a mind unlike any other in history, the Child is a genius to the nth power. He is able to imagine devastating weapons -- weapons that could (ha!) make war obsolete, as well as keeping America and its allies as top dogs on the world stage. But the Child is still only three, and has a three-year-old's stubbornness. He holds back important details of each weapon from his handlers.
Simeon is called to enter the Child's mind and retrieve those details. Simeon does not realize four things. First, the Child hates everyone; second the Child is completely insane; third, the Child believes himself to be God (and he may well be); and last, the Child is being held prisoner by his own subconscious. After two failed and harrowing attempts, Simeon finally reaches the Child's subconscious, only to find that there is no way out of the subconscious back to the Child's conscius brain. He is trapped in a phantasmagorical-- seemingly infinite -- landscape composed of myths, monsters, hatred, and fear.
This is an early science fiction work by Koontz, perhaps his eighth SF novel in four years. He published his first story in 1966, his first SF story in 1967, and his first SF novel in 1968. Duting his early career, Koontz was trying to find his way, writing books as fast as he could, many under a slew of pseudonyms and in a number of genres -- mystery, crime, suspense, thrillers, fantasy, science fiction, horror, softcore sex*, and mainstream. He began to find his voice with Demon Seed (1973), became much more assured with Night Chills (1976 -- a book whose theme he revised with his current Jan Hawk series) and with The Key to Midnight (1979, as by 'Leigh Nichols"). His position as a best-selling and popular novelist was secured with Watchers (1987). He now consistently hits the best-seller lists. Somewhere along the way he dropped his middle initial from his by-line.
I've mentioned before of my love/hate relationship with Koontz's books. They can be sentimentally maudlin, the protagonists preternaturally noble, the universe perversely fickle while also being grandly beneficial -- and dogs are noble while fathers are not. But he does know how to build a story, how to move things along at a breath-taking pace, and how to make you believe the immensity of the evil his characters face. In other words, he is a frustrating, but damned good, read.
His early work, such as this, is readable but forgettable. Here he takes a somewhat standard trope (an esper entering someone else's brain) and tries to run with it. It's a little bit herky-jerky, sometimes giving us too many details, sometimes too little. Characters are not fleshed out. (Simeon himself is poorly portrayed; at times he is an emotional midget but Koontz does little with that except for a few (very few) ham-fisted references. Koontz also clunkily channels Dante and the lryics of Bob Dylan.
A Darkness in My Soul flows roughly. (John Brunner handled the theme with much more grace in 1964's The Whole Man.) It is a journeyman's work from when Koontz was a journeyman -- nothing more, nothing less. You won't go too wrong if you read it, although I can only recommend it for Dean Koontz completists.
* Ah, Koontz and his softcore career. He now denies it, saying that his identity was stolen by someone he had worked professional with and that identity thief submitted articles and letters to various fanzines under the Koontz name. He also denied writing some 30 books of erotica that have been attributed to him. Koontz stated that he knew nothing about this until the neer-do-well confessed it to him in 1991. Yet in 1981 he admitted that he had written "some pornography" and his biographer Katherine Ramsland in 1997 identified one of these titles. Koontz has also dropped mention of two counterculture nonfiction books published by Aware Press (which may or may not be associated with Cameo Library, publisher of many of the disputed books) because (he claimed) that an editorial scythe cut through the books, changing up to 60% of each books. Koontz has stated that he will reveal the name of the identity thief when he publishes his memoirs. (It should be noted that Koontz quickly and loudly proclaimed the names of persons who have plagiarized his work.)