"Dead Lines," Greg Bear

Pros: Gorgeous characterization; unusual book and story; wonderful plot
Cons: Some might find it a little slow
Rating: 5 out of 5

Let me make one thing clear about Greg Bear’s “Dead Lines” right from the start. This isn’t an action-packed thrill-ride, even though in some ways it might qualify as a thriller. It isn’t a gore-fest, although it dips its feet into the pool of horror. It enthralls the reader in its own way, without the need for constant gunfire or blood on every page. It would be sad for someone to go into this book with the wrong expectations, because I’ve seen people dislike otherwise gorgeous works simply because they were expecting one thing and got another.

Greg Bear writes some truly unusual stuff. I haven’t read anything by him in a while (to my own shame), but “Blood Music” and his book of short stories, “Wind from a Burning Woman,” left an indelible impression on me years ago. Thus, when my husband and I made an ill-considered binge shopping trip to the local bookstore, we couldn’t resist picking up “Dead Lines”. I’m incredibly glad that we did.

Peter Russell is a largely out-of-work director and photographer (of titillating films and nude shots) with a gentle fondness for the ladies and a tragic love of the drink he no longer allows himself to have. He’s recently-divorced, and only one of his two daughters still lives. Then a chance at redemption arrives: he’s offered an opportunity to promote a new telecom company, one that has developed a revolutionary new communications device called Trans. Trans transmits with utter clarity across a newly-discovered bandwidth. His great opportunity is tainted, however: by self-doubt, fear of failure, the recent death of his best friend… and a new darkness that has entered his life. Everywhere he turns he sees things, things he shouldn’t see. Dead things and memories of the living. Hungry things. And he isn’t the only one…

On the surface of it this doesn’t sound terrifically unusual, and in fact we couldn’t help drawing parallels with a new movie we’ve seen ads for. However, the actual book is quite different from others I’ve read. It doesn’t concentrate on the plot so much as Peter Russell, a complex and fascinating person. It’s easy to empathize with his flaws and appreciate his strengths, and it’s impossible not to care what happens to him and the people around him. He’s the perfect conduit with which to draw the reader into the story.

The plot unfurls and unwinds rather than racing along, free to take some rather unusual twists and turns. This is one of the few books I’ve read where the reader’s attention isn’t drawn to the twists, with each one baldly pointed out; instead they’re simply a part of what’s happening, completely natural and organic. There are multiple mysteries wrapped up in this book’s plot, but it’s easy to forget to think of them as mysteries because they simply unfold as another natural part of the larger succession of events. Who killed Peter’s daughter? What mysterious force at his friend Joseph’s odd mansion blocks the Trans from working there? And can anything reverse the horror that is being visited upon the living?

So many details in this book ring true and bring it alive, but I don’t want to go into them for fear of saying too much. I’ll simply say that Greg Bear takes the story at least one or two steps further than any other author would, and he does it beautifully. If you don’t need constant explosions and chainsaws in order to enjoy your thrillers and horror, if you’re looking for a kind of fear that maybe, just maybe, highlights some of the beauty in this world, then I highly recommend Greg Bear’s “Dead Lines.” Once I started I could barely put it down.

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