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Onyx reviews: Dreamcatcher by Stephen King

As alien invasions go, the one that precipitates the action in Dreamcatcher is pretty mild. The aliens crash their spaceship in remote western Maine and quickly discover they cannot survive in our climate.

Their arrival, though, has far-reaching implications. Four life-long friends happen to be in the area on their annual hunting expedition. These men have a powerful bond of friendship...and something else. Each one has a subtle extrasensory power acquired when they grew up in Derry (IT, Insomnia), a city with a history of strange occurrences.

As children, the foursome rescued Duddits, a handicapped boy, from a group of bullies. This heroic act and their subsequent friendship with Duddits they believe to be their finest hour. Pete Moore is now a raging alcoholic who dreamt of working for NASA but ended up selling cars. Therapist Henry Devlin has recently been haunted by suicidal thoughts. "Beaver" Clarendon, who speaks in an endlessly original string of profanity, has a failed marriage and an unfulfilling life. History teacher Jonesy is recovering from an auto-pedestrian accident that mirrors King's own near-fatal encounter with a motor vehicle in 1999. Jonesy saw death come knocking and managed to hide from it to live another day.

What happens to them at their hunting lodge in Jefferson Tract comes straight out of The X-Files. While Henry and Peter are buying groceries, Jonesy almost accidentally shoots Richard McCarthy in the woods. He will later have cause to regret that he didn't. McCarthy, disoriented, may have been wandering lost for days. He is suffering unusual ailments and has a debilitating case of flatulence. While waiting for their friends to return through an early winter blizzard, Jonesy and Beav face the horror of McCarthy's quickly degenerating condition.

The friends discover that the aliens bring with them an infection, a cancer that spreads to humans. The luckier victims acquire a red fungus and telepathic powers. The unlucky ones host a parasite that runs amok in earth's climate. The result is Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Aliens.

While the friends are fighting their personal battle against the aliens, the army sets up a covert camp to eradicate the looming threat. Kurtz, the maniacal career military problem solver who rules his troops with an iron fist, believes even his own men are expendable to complete the mission. The final third of the novel is a prolonged tandem chase across New England during a perilous blizzard as Kurtz desperately attempts to contain the alien infection.

To say more about the story would be unfair, as this is a book contains many surprises—pleasant and unpleasant—for the reader. It is has more gory violence and raw terror than any previous King novel. In a recent interview, King said gleefully that one scene should make people scared of the bathroom. At its heart, though, the book is about characters who live, breathe, suffer and die as realistically as people we know. It examines the actions that are called heroism and the implications of the word 'survival.'

King originally planned to call the book Cancer (his wife thought this was an invitation to bad luck and trouble), a multileveled metaphor for the different invasions explored in Dreamcatcher. He pulls out all the stops, inflicting cruel hardships on his protagonists. The tension and terror are heart stopping, as intense and gripping as any horror film could ever aspire to be. During the climactic chase across the snow-blind roads, the reader is constantly aware that the clock is ticking toward the finale, where the ultimate surprises are laid bare and the true nature of the dreamcatcher is revealed.

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