The Tommyknockers by Stephen King
This is a well known chiller from the master of the genre, first published in 1988. It has aged well as has its author.
Jim Gardener -known as Gard by his one true friend and occasional lover, Bobbi Anderson – is a drunk, a poet and a man on the verge of suicide. It is whilst on an ill-fated poetry tour of New England that Gard decides to top himself. As he prepares for imminent death and a welcome release, he gets the strangest sensation that Bobbi is in danger and desperately needs him. When Gard eventually arrives barefoot at Bobbi’s isolated house in the woods, he discovers that she is emaciated and seriously ill, with fantastical stories to boot.
Bobbi quickly reveals that she has accidentally uncovered part of an alien spacecraft buried in the woods. She has become obsessed with digging out and exposing the entire vessel. She beseeches (great word there) Gard for help and he reluctantly agrees. Neither wish to involve the authorities as they are convinced that the alien technology will be used for malign purposes such as perhaps encouraging people to eat only McDonald’s, or spending all their time watching reality TV shows… wait a minute… wait a goddamn, cotton-picking minute.
Unfortunately, the craft has a detrimental effect upon all who come into contact with it, as well as anyone in the general vicinity of the surrounding township of Haven. Essentially, Bobbi is fucked as she comes increasingly under the influence of the strange craft. Gard has a strong degree of immunity due to the metal plate in his skull, placed there courtesy of a childhood skiing accident. Apparently metal inserts in the head confer some immunity. The big guy from James Bond would be laughing all over Haven.
The ship is huge. The excavation is therefore a major undertaking. As more sides of the ‘saucer’ are revealed, the air becomes evermore toxic. All of the population of Haven becomes slightly brain-washed as they breathe in the poisons released from the craft’s hull. Yet there are some positives. As the people fall under the spell of the alien toxins, they develop much higher IQ’s. New gadgets are invented, some deadly, some not, all apparently powered by regular DC batteries. It’s a crazy new world in Haven.
Gard is conflicted. He knows the harm that the vessel is doing to Bobbi and the others in town. Yet he is also fascinated by it. He longs to see inside it as the dig moves ever closer to a hatch that Bobbi inexplicably knows to be there. He is also torn by his love for Bobbi, his rampant alcoholism and his curiosity.
Outsiders who visit Haven begin to experience problems, even if only passing through. Some of the residents resist the changes taking place and pay a heavy price for doing so. One child, 10 years old Hilly Brown, performs an alien-inspired magic trick that makes his 4 year old brother, David, disappear. Literally. David ends up on Altair-4, a ‘storage planet’ used by the aliens who crashed the vessel on Earth 2.5 million years ago. Back then Jackie Stallone was still a toddler. Hilly Brown becomes catatonic with the shock of having lost his beloved little brother, but his grandfather (complete with metal plate in his scone) does not give up hope of rescuing David and Hilly both.
Other strange occurrences take place but the locals seem to move on nonchalantly as they all come under the complete control of the toxic environment. Some, led by Bobbi, regularly visit a shed in Bobbi’s garden. Gard notices these attendances but has no idea what it is that they do in there, at least not in the beginning. This small cabal begin to change physically the more the visit the shed, yet Gard decides that instead of investigating, he will continue to lose himself in drink, but finds none of the answers he seeks.
On the bright side, Gard’s metal plate prevents his mind from being read by what is fast becoming a telepathic collective in Haven. Everyone is in everyone else’s head. Imagine taking a crap and having 200 other people in the bathroom with you as you push one out. Rebel Voice doesn’t fancy that shit.
The excavation continues with the use of alien inspired technology, the kinda stuff that would really help Trump build his Mexican wall at low cost. But society outside Haven is quickly coming to realize that all is not well in the rural township. As the people become further infected, and the ship’s hatch is close to being uncovered, the outside world is turning its gaze on the locality leading to a climatic and well executed conclusion.
The Tommyknockers is the name innocently attached to the alien visitors, long dead (so everyone thinks). It is also a novel that predates and prepares the ground for King’s 2009 work, Under The Dome.
Both are sci-fi thrillers set in small towns isolated from the rest of the country. But, where Under The Dome concerns the reaction of regular people trapped, The Tommyknockers deals with the impact that alien poisons have upon a bucolic society and how human desires can be used as a means of controlling populations. In that respect, The Tommyknockers could be viewed as a comment upon modern societies and the malign influence that consumerism has upon us all. To be fair though, you could interpret any number of metaphors from The Tommyknockers.
This is a very good novel. The cast is extensive but intimately introduced. There are many strands and sub-plots. Some chapters read as stand-alone short stories and many critics would argue that they are wholly unnecessary. Yet, although King does indulge himself with this mechanism, it adds greater depth to the entire work. And it is a considerably-sized piece of prose.
King’s stylish flourishes are evident as is his ofttimes raw approach. The language is strong at times, as is the imagery. The settings are excellently presented and the entire epic is fairly consistent, although the question must be asked, Where did Gard get the shoes? There is also some ambiguity regarding how or why the toxic process took place. Was it deliberate or consequence?
That said, The Tommyknockers will hold readers from start to finish, and what a beautiful finish it is. Rebel Voice greatly appreciates an author who knows how to tidy up loose ends, and The Tommyknockers should leave readers with a smile on their faces and a general feeling of relief and contentment. It’s a solid read, so set aside the time and get stuck into this Stephen King classic. After all, perhaps some day something like this will happen to you… perhaps.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Recommended for fans of Stephen King, sci-fi buffs, preppers and other assorted apocalypse nerds, followers of groovy gadgets and those who get a kick from the woods and general outdoors.