Book Report: Creature by John Saul (1989)

Book coverAfter reading Cabal, I thought maybe I’d knock out a couple of the 80s-era horror books I have around. I have a couple from John Saul, so I picked up this one. Who knew that it might actually be the next in alphabetical order?

At any rate, the plot is that a nuclear family moves to a small company town in the Rockies when the father gets a promotion at the tech company he works for. They find the town idyllic, but it’s controlled almost top-down by the tech company. The local football team has boys that are bigger and meaner than other nearby schools, and it’s because the local “sports” clinic, funded by the tech company, is conducting experimental treatments on the boys. It makes them bigger and stronger, but sometimes makes them feral. Of course, the gentle son of our nuclear family decides abruptly that he wants to become stronger and so he falls under the influence of the doctor running the clinic. When some of the mothers of the affected children start wondering if their children are in danger, the tech company and the fathers align to protect the program and the company.

So it’s got a children in danger theme to it that seems fairly common to the genre, and it has helpless wives who lack the power to get their children out of danger. It reminded me a lot of The Stepford Wives in that regard. It got under my skin a bit–I cannot imagine any of my mother’s sisters or my mother dealing with the issues as the mothers in this book do. And they all lack a support network outside the town, so nobody calls a sister or friend for a sanity check. Stephen King’s books often featured isolated locations, but it doesn’t seem forced. Here, it is.

The book ends very quickly with a burst of violence; it was sudden that I thought right before it that it was leading up to a cliffhanger or a sequel. But no, a little bloodshed and not a complete set of revenge which might have left room for a sequel.

I did flag a bunch of things in this book:

  • Some anachronisms. Or the opposite of anachronisms: things that would seem to belong to a future era, more like the present, than 1989.

    They’d gone first to the software section, where a group of top programmers, all of them casually dressed, were working at computer terminals or whispering quickly to each other in strange programming language that Blake had never been able to comprehend. “We have an Artificial Intelligence unit working here,” Jerry said in reply to Blake’s inquisitive glance. “We’re far ahead of the guys in Palo Alto and Berkeley, but of course they don’t know it. In fact, as far as they know, we’re only working on a new operating system to compete with Microsoft.

    Aside from the locations or writing an operating system, that could be cut from a novel from today.

  • The family moves to a house on Telluride Drive. One story behind the name of Telluride, Colorado, is that it’s from To Hell you ride. Or at least that’s what Michelle Malkin told me.
     
  • Observe this barbarity, the worst in the book:

    “In a few minutes, honey,” she told the little girl. “How’d you like to take care of the steaks for me?”

    Kelly’s eyes glittered with pleasure, and she instantly picked up the large fork from the counter by the grill and stabbed experimentally at one of the thick T-bones that were just barely beginning to brown. “Is it time to turn them?”

    “Every four minutes,” Sharon replied, glancing at the meat and deciding she had at least fifteen minutes in which to talk with her son.

    Oh, the humanity!

  • Recovering from a beating at the hands of a nearly feral football player, the undersized lad says:

    Mark winced with almost every motion, but when he finally made it, he forced himself to grin at the nurse. “See? Nothing to it. I could run a ten-K if I had to.”

    It’s presented 10K these days, and it’s about an hour of running at a six-mile-per-hour pace. Which is easier for kids.

  • It must have seemed quite cutting edge at the time:

    “May I help you, Mrs. Tanner?”

    Sharon frowned, then glanced instinctively at the girl’s lapel, searching for the identification badge that all TarrenTech employees wore.

    The girl wore none.

    The girl’s smile broadened as she realized Sharon’s dilemma. “I’m Sandy Davis,” she said. “And you don’t know me. The security system did a photo comparison on you, so I knew who you were even before you came into the building.”

    But now we just assume it, ainna?

  • Marty Ames opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out the .38-caliber pistol he’d started keeping there when he first realized that some of the boys might become dangerous.

    You know, I would have gone with a larger caliber.

  • Speaking of isolated:

    For the first time that morning she was able to think about the funeral without crying. She didn’t know whether it had been like other funerals, because she’d never been to one before. There hadn’t been very many people there, and it hadn’t taken very long, and as she sat in the front pew of the little church, listening to a man she’d never seen before talking about her family–and she knew he’d never even met her family, so how could he talk about them?–she tried to convince herself that it really was her father and mother and brother in the three coffins lined up in front of the altar.

    Notice there’s no other family members nor a church support network. Artificial isolation that really sticks out.

So ultimately, the book really didn’t work for me. I’m not a great fan of the genre, and this book hasn’t made me want to read another any time soon.

In thinking about this book and John Saul’s sort-of ubiquity–you could see his books available back in the day, and they were prevalent at book sales a couple years ago–made me wonder how the collapse of book clubs altered book buying. Book club editions were a staple of the book sales for a long time. I think we might have seen that bubble burst as members of my parents’ generation have downsized their libraries. What am I talking about? Even I don’t know.

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