Breathless (book, Dean Koontz, 2009)

A review from SFX 193.


Dean Koontz/Harper Collins/ 337 pages/ £17.99

ISBN: 978-0-00-726762-0

Koontz takes on Darwin in poetic yet perfunctory fashion.

Koontz is something of the frustrated poet, his prose littered with florid simile and underpinned with a prosody that at once helps and interrupts the immersive flow of his books. It’s no accident that in Breathless a poet is murdered, and Koontz uses the narrative to chuck out that lament of all modern bards ‘Nobody makes money out of poetry any more’. Get past the paper bark birches shedding autumn leaves ‘like sovereigns’ and he sucks you in. Breathless follows multiple characters whose lives intersect in obtuse ways (chaos theory being a component of the story), and Koontz’ usual cast of dogs, psychopaths, noble individuals transcending their traumatic childhoods and ex-special forces servicemen are all present, their personal struggles weaving round the discovery of miraculous animals in Colorado.

When Koontz, a Catholic, isn’t getting carried away, his own personal philosophy of the numinous nature of everyday life is conveyed with subtle force. Science is the touchstone in Breathless, but gut feeling reigns over it. Chaos is God’s signature, the unknowable pattern under quantum mechanics and classical physics. The result can be enchanting. Unfortunately Koontz rather blows the game with a childish page-long rant about Darwinism. If a gene mutated every millisecond since the Earth was born, chaos mathematician Lamar Woolsey tells us, not even the most primitive worm would have evolved. A geneticist is portrayed as a humourless vulture, and the old creationist saw about the development of the eye is once more deployed. Koontz is falling into his own trap here. He cites fellow convert G.K. Chesterton: “Science must not impose any philosophy any more than the telephone must tell us what to say.” By attacking precisely Darwinism rather than the school of evolution, he is attacking it as a philosophy, not the incomplete theory that science knows it is. A far better book on the theme of religion versus science is Kim Stanley Robinson’s Galileo’s Dream, which makes the case for saving room for both world views. In that, a time-displaced Galileo is awed and overjoyed when the structure of the universe is revealed to him – he believes he is seeing God’s work in full, and revels at his place in it, while the materialist scientists of the future quail at their own perceived insignificance.

Koontz, by contrast to Robinson, is inconsistent in his approach and less subtle. Even then, this is a good story, only the author’s cack-handed assault on Darwin cheapening what is otherwise an engaging thriller.

Did you know…?

Koontz loves dogs, especially Golden Retrievers (who feature in Breathless too). He writes blogs on his website from the perspective of his sadly deceased dog, Trixie.


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