First published back in November of 1987, US author Stephen King’s novel ‘The Tommyknockers’ was an interesting blend of horror and sci-fi.

The tale was later adapted into a two-part TV miniseries in 1993, which was directed by John Power.

DLS Synopsis:
Roberta Anderson is someone who likes her privacy.    And this is exactly why she’s living out in the proverbial middle-of-nowhere with just her dog Peter as company.  There, in her modestly-quaint little shack, Anderson spends her days writing her Wild West novels, scratching away a somewhat meek living with her mild literary success.

But all that is about to change when, whilst walking out in the nearby woods, Anderson quite literally stumbles across a strange metallic object protruding from the ground.  Mildly intrigued by this obviously foreign object buried away in the middle of the woods, Anderson begins to unearth more of the strange metal protrusion.  And slowly but surely she begins to realise that what she is uncovering from underneath the surface of the woods is much, much larger than she had first assumed.  In fact, the metallic object buried under the surface of the woods is vast in size.

Before long Anderson’s every waking hour is being spent unearthing this huge metallic object.  Her life has become utterly consumed by the mammoth task.  When her close friend James Gardener (‘Gard’) stops by to see her, he finds a worn out shell of a woman, seemingly completely distracted from anything that he says or does.  Understandably Gard is concerned for his dear friend Bobbi.  But then there are the numerous strange inventions that Bobbi seems to have created around her house.  Ingenious appliances that all rely on the power of batteries – and hundreds of them.  Magnificent gadgets and souped-up appliances that glow with a green energy as they perform their various tasks.

Elsewhere around the local town of Haven, a growing number of the locals are noticing sudden shifts in friends and family’s behaviour.  Similar inventions, each glowing with the eerie green power, are cropping up around the town.  Furthermore, the local hardware store can’t keep up with the sudden demand for batteries.

Awash with his own dysfunctional problems, Gard has to make a decision as what to do about Bobbi.  Watching as she uncovers more and more of the huge metallic object, Gard knows something is very, very wrong.  Bobbi has become convinced that what she’s found is a spacecraft that had crash-landed many years ago.  Sceptical, Gard is apprehensive from jumping to such far-fetched conclusions, but decides to take some action.  And so he calls in the local authorities.  But whilst the two of them have been spending their time digging, the people of Haven have turned changed.

All of a sudden Gard feels like he’s suddenly the one who’s the alien.  The locals have become like a tightly-knit pack.  Banding together and seemingly knowing what each other is thinking.  Gard feels close to a breakdown as paranoia takes over him.  But what if the spacecraft was somehow affecting everyone within the local vicinity?  What if all of the strange inventions and odd shifts in everyone’s personalities were due to what Gard and Bobbi had been uncovering?  What if he was the only one left unaffected?  What if the whole of Haven was now under the control of an alien lifeform?...

DLS Review:
King reportedly wrote the novel during a period of his life where he was struggling with a drug addiction.  Indeed, much of the novel’s underlying themes are self-referential to King’s life and drug dependency at the time, with Bobbi’s near-inability to do anything but work on uncovering the alien spacecraft and Jim Gardener’s own alcoholic dependencies very much a strong character-angle. 

The novel is undoubtedly a slow-mover.  The first couple of hundred pages struggle to maintain any form of momentum, seemingly forced along by the author’s will alone.  Within these early pages a solid backdrop for the plotline is certainly established, with the solid roots for strong characterisation set down.  However the over-padding still holds back any sort of consistent pace from being established.

That said, once the novel gets going, it’s a gripper.  There’s mysterious tension and growing menace bursting from the pages.  The characters’ submission to the overbearing powers that are taking a stranglehold over the entirety of the town is where the real ‘time-tested’ horror within the story lies.  Very much is the same vein as the likes of ‘The Bodysnatchers’ (1955) or indeed John Wyndham’s ‘The Midwich Cuckoos’ (1957), the novel relies heavily on the menace created by characters acting and behaving as if they are being controlled by someone or something else.

Aside from the ‘addiction’ and ‘alien control’, the novel utilises a strong character base, with much time and effort put into developing on this characterisation.  The bond between our principal protagonist (Jim Gardener) and Bobbi Anderson is portrayed with an incredible warmth and loving compassion.  The reader is coaxed into really feeling for the two characters as their relationship comes to a head due to the spacecrafts influence over Bobbi.  And it works!

Emotions are raw and exposed through much of the midsection of the novel.  However, these character dependent qualities to the tale are put on hold somewhat for the remaining third of the tale, whereby King instead suddenly throws down everything he’s got in store for the story in one fell swoop.  As if from out of nowhere, the novel takes on a much more active and sci-fi tone, ramping-up the pace to a pretty heart-in-mouth adrenaline-pumping finale.  The ending is perhaps one of those ‘love it or hate it’ situations.  For me I thoroughly enjoyed the grossly out-of-place spurt of action for the last third of the tale.  The sci-fi wackiness of the finale is a delightful blend of pulpishness together with an elaborately written contemporary horror/sci-fi backdrop.

So it’s not Stephen King’s finest achievement to date.  There are quite a few elements in the novel that won’t agree with everyone.  The overwhelming emphasis on the writer’s own addiction, the initially slow and over-padded pace, and the outlandish finale are perhaps the main areas that have swayed other readers’ opinions on the novel.  However, for those that can happily take out what they want from a novel and persevere through the elements that they don’t particularly take to, then ‘The Tommyknockers’ will no doubt be an enjoyable read for them.  I’ve seen a lot of slating of the novel, as well as an equal number of happy-campers.  It’s a weird one that seems to split the fans (as well as the casual readers).  I for one enjoyed the novel.  Not all of it (as already mentioned), but for me the vast majority of the tale proved to be a gripping and engrossing read.

The novel runs for a total of 558 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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