30-Year Throwback -- WATCHERS

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30-Year Throwback -- WATCHERS

Postby WhiteWolf on Mon May 01, 2017 12:26 pm

On February 2nd, 1987, Putnam published the first edition hardcover of WATCHERS, by Dean R. Koontz.
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From the Official Dean Koontz Website:
Watchers
A “superior thriller”(Oakland Press) about a man, a dog, and a terrifying threat that could only have come from the imagination of #1 New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz.

On his thirty-sixth birthday, Travis Cornell hikes into the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains. But his path is soon blocked by a bedraggled Golden Retriever who will let him go no further into the dark woods.

That morning, Travis had been desperate to find some happiness in his lonely, seemingly cursed life. What he finds is a dog of alarming intelligence that soon leads him into a relentless storm of mankind’s darkest creation...


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From Martin H. Greenberg, Ed Gorman, and Bill Munster's DEAN KOONTZ COMPANION, Berkley Trade, 1994: (This is the longest entry in the book's "Major Works" section)
WATCHERS. New York: Putnam, 1987.
Opening Sentence: "On his thirty-sixth birthday, May 18, Travis Cornell rose at five o'clock in the morning."
Comments: This is a key novel in the author's oeuvre. More than any other work to date, it embodies all of the major themes with which he is obsessed: the healing power of love and friendship; the struggle to overcome the past and change what we are; the moral superiority of the individual over the workings of the state and large institutions; the wonder of both the natural world and the potential of the human mind; the relationship of mankind to God; transcendence; and how we sustain hope in the face of our awareness that all things die. This book contains the quintessential Koontz love story, in which two people, both damaged but with their individual strengths, find that they can be more complete and more alive together than either can be alone; love, in any of the author's novels, is expressed not merely in romantic or sexual terms, but as a condition with broad emotional effects and with a profound involvement of the intellect. In Travis and Nora, from WATCHERS, Koontz achieves a depth of insight into loving relationships that he sometimes equals in later work but never (as yet) surpasses.

This is the author's personal favorite of his books to date (with Mr. MURDER a close second). In this excerpt from a letter to Bill Munster, he makes several points that are best made in his own words: "I believe that we carry within us a divinely inspired moral imperative to love, and I explore that imperative in all of my books. Indeed, that is the case with WATCHERS, a theme to which I even posted signs, such as those embodied in the epigrams that are used at the start of Part Two. ('Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves.' --Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. And 'Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.' --The Gospel According to St. John.) We have within us the ability to change for the better and to find dignity as individuals rather than as fragments of one mass movement or another. We have the ability to love, the need to be loved, and the willingness to put our own lives on the line to protect those we love, and it is in these aspects of ourselves that we see the face of God and through the great value of the individual ... about the loving relationships between mates, friends, relatives ... and I am, of course, a thoroughgoing optimist, a believer in people and the future. I think my optimism makes my fiction considerably different from that of anyone I can name in the dark-suspense arena, where misanthropy of one degree or another seems to color most of what else is written."

For the clearest statement of optimism that the author has ever made within a novel, one need look no farther than chapter seven, subchapter six, of WATCHERS, in which these words appear: "Although the constant shadow of certain death looms over every day, the pleasures and joys of life can be so fine and deeply affecting that the heart is nearly stilled by astonishment."

From the Los Angeles Daily News: "Convincing characters, good dialogue... written in prose of a literary quality that puts most bestselling authors to shame." From the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "WATCHERS is so well crafted that it is nearly everything one could wish for in a modern suspense novel ... unrelentingly suspenseful. His style is a model of clarity, his prose so sooth that it goes down tlike apple juice while his plot carries the delayed punch of hard cider. First-class entertainment." From Kirkus Reviews: "His best ever, an imaginative and unusual blend of suspense and sentiment. A fable about love and trust ... with echoes of FRANKENSTEIN and THE ISLAND OF Dr. MOREAU." Finally, from the Baltimore Daily Record: "Characterization is Koontz's unexpected gift. He made me genuinely care about his characters. I had to keep reading. I had to make sure everything would turn out all right. WATCHERS reads less like a thriller and more like a novel, a novel that is capable of making us cheer for the characters and fear for them and ultimately take them into our hearts."


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This is the new Author's Afterword Koontz wrote of the above paperback edition, copied from the Official Dean Koontz Website: (It contains some paraphrasing of the same letter he sent to Bill Munster in 1993/94)
If I am fortunate enough to live to such an advanced age that my wardrobe consists entirely of bathrobes, loose jumpsuits, bunny slippers, and adult diapers, and if I am also fortunate enough to be writing novels in that twilight of my life, I know that I can expect to receive mail from readers that says, in essence, “I love your new book, but that story you wrote when you were just a puppy, Watchers, is still the best thing you’ve ever done.” I’ll be at a book signing–accompanied by a nurse and by an attendant holding an ear trumpet, hooked to an IV drip feeding me liquefied nachos, wearing a lavishly embroidered jumpsuit more dazzling than anything Elvis ever wore in his Las Vegas period–and as readers greet me and receive their inscribed copies of my latest effort, a significant percentage of them will ask me to write a sequel to Watchers. I will smile, promise to think about it, try not to drool, and explain that I don’t believe in writing a sequel to a book unless I can be sure it will be at least the equal of the original.

For years after finishing the story of Einstein–the genetically engineered golden retriever with wildly enhanced intelligence–and his friends, I wondered if I would ever write another book that was as personally satisfying to me as this one had been. When I am writing a novel, I experience bleak spells of deep self-doubt about my work, moments of surging confidence, despair followed by joy, although there are usually more dark moments than bright. With Watchers, however, I knew only joy. The desire to write well can never be fulfilled without hard work, and Watchers involved as many hours at the keyboard and as much struggle as any book I’ve done; but in this case, all the time and effort was pure pleasure, because I was aware that I had a grip on a unique idea, special material, and a group of characters whose depth and warmth were greater than those in any book I’d written to that time. For days at a stretch,

I found myself in what psychologists call a “flow state,” a condition in which one performs far beyond what previously had seemed to be the peak of one’s abilities, with greater fluency and speed and grace; it is similar to what athletes mean when they say they are “in the zone.”

Eventually, I wrote a few books I liked as well as Watchers; but to date, as I compose this essay, I can’t honestly say I’ve written one that I like better. I remain confident that day will come. I am an eternal optimist. I believe the greatest scientists of our time will soon discover a cure for gnarly oak fungus and perfect a process to make Brussels sprouts taste like peanut butter. I believe that one day society will become so compassionate that Big Foot will finally be able to come out of hiding and will be welcomed as a neighbor in any community in this land, as long as he showers regularly. And if that day comes, I suspect Mr. Foot will show up at a book signing to personally congratulate me when I do, at last, write a book that is a better performance than Watchers, because judging by the fleeting glimpses we’ve had of him over the years, he seems like a shy, kind soul. If I’ve misjudged him, and if he tears my arm off for lunch,

I will be dismayed, but I’ll not be less optimistic and will not stop striving–albeit with five fingers–to write a better book than this tale of Einstein.

In an annotated bibliography in The Dean Koontz Companion, a book about my work, the bibliographer made the following observation about Watchers. “It embodies all of the major themes with which [Koontz] has been obsessed: the healing power of love and friendship; the struggle to overcome the past and change what we are; the moral superiority of the individual over the workings of the state and large institutions; the wonder of both the natural world and the potential of the human mind; the relationship of mankind to God; transcendence; and how we sustain hope in the face of our awareness that all things die.” Those are, indeed, the fundamental issues in this novel.

For the most part, as I have written the essays for this series of editions, I have tried to keep them light and amusing, because although I take my work seriously, I never take myself seriously. The human species is a parade of fools, after all, and I am often at the front of the parade, twirling a baton. Nevertheless, for a moment here, I will wax serious (and then the car) because Watchers is so close to my heart.

I believe that we carry within us a divinely inspired moral imperative to love, and I explore that imperative in all of my books. In Watchers, this issue is central to the story, and I even post signs announcing the theme, such as those embodied in the epigrams that are used at the start of Part Two. (“Love alone is capable of uniting living beings in such a way as to complete and fulfill them, for it alone takes them and joins them by what is deepest in themselves”–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. And “Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends”–The Gospel According to Saint John.) We have within us the ability to change for the better and to find dignity as individuals rather than as drones in one mass movement or another. We have the ability to love, the need to be loved, and the willingness to put our own lives on the line to protect those we love, and it is in these aspects of ourselves that we can glimpse the face of God; and through the exercise of these qualities, we come closest to a Godlike state.

With that said, my greatest hope is not that you find the themes of this novel worth analyzing, but that you find this to be a rip-roaring, rattling-good story. I hope it keeps you so far out on the edge of your chair that you have butt bruises from repeatedly falling to the floor. I hope it makes you laugh and cry. A novel can have multiple, intricately woven levels of theme and symbol, but it fails if it is not first a wonderful tale.

When I’m ancient, if you come to one of my book signings and see me sitting there in a pink terry-cloth bathrobe or in a jumpsuit embroidered with scenes from the life of Moe Howard of the Three Stooges–I’ll be happy to hear any kind words you whisper into my ear trumpet, even if it is only to say that my finest hour was with Watchers, this tale of a hero with a tail of his own. If Big Foot is in line near you, however, I would also ask that you do me the service of determining that he’s in a good mood and has already eaten lunch.


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WATCHERS went on to become (and then stay) one of Koontz's all-time best selling and most loved books. It was adapted into an unfortunate film which in turn spawned three unfortunate sequels (causing one to wonder what drugs people really take in Hollywood), marking this as one of the darkest episodes of Koontz adaptations, perhaps even the worst. But none of that has taken away from the quality and enduring respect for the original story, and millions of Koontz fans have longed for a genuine film to be made which wipes the memory of those previous abominations away forever.

This has been my 30-year Throwback for 2017. I had fun transcribing the entry from Greenberg and Gorman's COMPANION, and going over to the bookshelf to thumb through and read pages from all three of my old copies of WATCHERS, as it is truly one of those books I think of as an "old friend."
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Re: 30-Year Throwback -- WATCHERS

Postby Schrijvertje on Wed May 03, 2017 7:11 am

Great article! I'll have to read it in more detail later.
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Re: 30-Year Throwback -- WATCHERS

Postby WhiteWolf on Fri May 05, 2017 9:04 am

I went looking for some good "professional" reviews of WATCHERS to post or link to, and i had a hard time. The problem is that most book reviewers these days are bitter little people, constantly injecting their own ego and motive and to something as simple as reading a book and reporting its merits, if any. Most of you guys know how little regard I have for book reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads; especially the one-star reviews by small-minded, angry and immature trolls.

Making it more difficult is the time scale. WATCHERS is thirty years old, and I just read a review on Penny Dreadful that kept referencing Stieg Larson books and even World of Warcraft, for some reason. These people have absolutely no perspective whatsoever, and are always looking at the world through their social media prism of the here and now, never considering for a moment that there was a time before this, that a book written thirty years ago can only reflect the time it was written, and not to your particular tastes right now in 2017. It's ridiculous for people to read books this way, but I suppose I have to chalk it up to immaturity.

I did find a link to the original New York Times "In Short" book review, written presumably before it became a New York Times Bestseller. It contains this closing line: "Displaying a little more depth and a lot more humor than Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz has really hit his stride."

There is this decent 2011 review over at Tor.com.
And I liked this review because the reviewer checked his ego and ulterior motives a the door, while including a lot of excerpts from the book (a very good sign that he actually read the whole thing).

Best of all, Dean Koontz himself answers a question about WATCHERS on YouTube, and also on YouTube is the WATCHERS audio book part 1 and part 2.
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Re: 30-Year Throwback -- WATCHERS

Postby Schrijvertje on Tue May 09, 2017 1:38 am

“Watchers” is one of the first Koontz book I read. I think it was number three or four. First I read “The Mask”, then “The Voice of the Night”, and then I had a second attempt at “Strangers”, but I don’t recall if I read “Watchers” (which is actually translated as “The Franciscus Conspiracy” in Dutch) before or after “Strangers”.

I read back my own review of the book after seeing this thread. What I mostly talk about is the modern fairy tale vibe with talking animals, where humankind as a whole finally stops feeling alone in this world, but also how individuals can find each other through pure chance and stop feeling alone in their own little world. How everyone feels some level of insecurity and how we rely on others to lift us up.

Of course my entire review can be found here: http://koontzcommunity.informe.com/forum/dark-reviews-of-the-heart-f10/watchers-1987-t231.html ;)
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Re: 30-Year Throwback -- WATCHERS

Postby WhiteWolf on Thu May 11, 2017 1:05 pm

I first read WATCHERS as part of the three-novel anthology that also contained SHATTERED and WHISPERS.
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I had no idea, at the time, that WATCHERS was one of Koontz's best books. So, in reading the anthology, I thought SHATTERED was okay, WHISPERS was much better, and then I was completely blown away by how good WATCHERS really was. It was as if someone had hidden this novel in the back of an omnibus, and listed it on the cover with the other two titles as if it was every bit equal to them in quality. It wasn't. It was an eye-opening, amazing experience to read WATCHERS, one that opened my eyes to the larger talent and themes that were in store for me reading later Koontz books. It was probably the 10th or so Koontz novel I read (some time around 1994), but one of the ones I remember like I just read it a few weeks ago. It's also the only Koontz book I ever recommended to my wife to read. She read it and liked it.
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