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Word Bomb: By the Light of the Moon

Written by Dean Koontz
Published by Bantam Books

By the Light of the Moon opens with a pair of traveling brothers: Shep, a 20-year-old autistic man, and his big brother Dylan, a landscape artist. The brothers have stopped at a motel when Dylan is attacked and injected with some mysterious stuff his assailant only refers to as…”stuff.” This stuff will change him in psychotropic ways, but the mad scientist inventor is unable to say in what ways. Soon, Dylan and Shep meet up with another victim of the scientist, Jilly, an aspiring stand-up comedian with a severe sarcasm fetish. They set out to escape some mysterious Men in Black, while also struggling to find out the truth of the serum and what they might become. They seem to have the ability to stop and/or predict crimes, but what that will mean for their escape remains to be seen.

This novel is much more a mystery than a horror novel, as the characters struggle to learn what is happening to them, the extent of their new powers, and why all of this has happened. Koontz has written a very intriguing situation, and it is interesting further to see how Shep’s autism plays into the tale, instead of being mere window-dressing. The characters are fairly well-rounded, especially Shep, who for all of his autism is almost more real than his brother. A few truly poignant moments decorate the plot, such as when Dylan uses his abilities to reunite a man with his granddaughter and Jilly apologizes to a bride whose wedding they have disrupted.

One of the most interesting things about the book is the question of morality. If given some new abilities, would we all do good if we could, or would some of us become super-villains? Does a compulsion to do good ingrained in your very brain make it less virtue than force? Do we, as a species, really need to be rewired to do the right; are we really so fallen? Finally, does “faulty” wiring excuse evil? From a reader’s perspective, that “rewiring” aspect may not have been necessary; heroes should sometimes be free to choose evil, which makes their choice of good all the more powerful, as well as Shep’s “deviation.”

There are a few quirks, such as the nature of the bigotry that caused the three men inexplicably to attack the wedding. Also, it’s a bit much of a coincidence that Shep and Dylan have a connection to the source of their woes, and that Lantern happens to have a radio show that allows the heroic trio to be familiar with him before they meet. The technology aspects are a little facile, but do provide some potential. A few minor plot holes here and there keep this book from becoming as fascinating as it could be; Koontz’ skill may not be quite up to his abilities at generating interesting premises.

In short, if you are looking for something lightweight, with a good mystery and little horror, By the Light of the Moon is a decent bet. It is not great literature, but it does have action, mystery, and some interesting plot points.

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