There are few books that I’ve read in my life that have really stuck with me. In adulthood, there have been virtually no fiction books or novels that have touched me in any significant way. Nothing like when I was a kid. Back when I was 13 or 14, I would spend summers on my bed reading book after book. I would get up in the morning and ride my bike the two miles down to the library to check out books after scouring the stacks. I loved it.
I honestly can’t remember when I read Lightning for the first time. It must have been in high school. I don’t recall discovering Dean Koontz before that. But I can say that no story has ever really affected me so profoundly as this one did.
So, let’s jump into the book and explore the world Koontz created. I can’t wait..….
It’s a love story, of course. All the best ones are. It centers around Laura Shane and her life, her precarious fate, and the stranger who would save her. Born during a freak lightning storm, Laura is delivered from the a complicated delivery by a strange man who intercedes with the drunk doctor.
Unfortunately her mother dies in childbirth and Laura is raised by her father. At age 8, Laura and her father are robbed, but the same stranger again intervenes. Four years later, her father dies of a heart attack and Laura sees the strange hero again at her father’s funeral.
After her father’s death, she’s put in the system and is sent to an orphanage where she befriends a set of twins and also is taunted by a monster name Sheener, the custodian. Again, just in time, her mysterious savior appears out of nowhere, at just the right time and saves her, leaving Sheener a bloody mess.
Awhile later, Laura is sent into foster care, but Sheener appears and attacks her, forcing Laura to kill him. She is returned to the orphanage system and gets bounced around, learning that one of the twins has died, and eventually ages out of the system. She goes on to college and majors in creative writing, finds the love of her life in Danny, who she eventually marries.
A few years later, Laura becomes a celebrated author, they have a son, and everything in life seems serene. But, amidst a perfect life, they have a terrible accident and the strange man appears again to save them, revealing that his name is Stefan. Another man appears and attacks, Danny dies from a gunshot wound. Stefan again saves Laura but then disappears as he has done several times before.
He appears a year later, wounded, and in need of care. Laura fixes him up, but in the process has to combat unknown assassins from an unknown enemy.
Over the course of a terrifying few days, Stefan explains that he was born in 1909 in Nazi Germany and is part of a secret project where Hitler is sending time travelers forward to change the outcome of WWII. Stefan is rogue at this point, having come back through time, making adjustments in Laura’s life. She originally was destined to be a quadriplegic because of the doctor who was set to deliver her back in 1955. It is because of his meddling in her life that his supervisors have discovered his deviance from their plans, which is why they are now being hunted.
The story goes on from there, of course. With a great deal of action and firefights and battles. With the help of her friend (the sole surviving twin) from the orphanage, Laura and her son arm themselves and prepare themselves for the fight to come from Nazi Germany of the past.
By using time travel, Stefan is able to derail the German project, while jumping into the future to convince Winston Churchill to bomb the location of the time machine installation. He also visits Hitler and feeds him false information that ultimately sabotages the war effort.
While Stefan is gone, Laura and her son and her friend are attacked and killed. He returns too late and finds them dead. But he works a way to get a message to Laura and saves them instead. Laura kills her assailants and the two of them are ultimately spared.
In the end, Stefan returns with Thelma after the heat dies down and he and Laura realize they are falling in love.
Time Travel, Of Course
Of course, the central theme of the story is time travel. What a perfect complement at the time I read the book (somewhere between 1988 and 1993), when time travel was all the rage (think Terminator 1 had splashed big, then right at that time Terminator 2 came out). I had also been well instructed in the essentials of time travel with Back to the Future 1, 2, and 3 coming out around that time as well. My memory being one of the first things to go in middle age, I can’t seem to remember most things about my childhood or teen years. Just a few snippets here and there. I can remember how this book echoed in my head and how it still does today. But I don’t actually recall the reading part or when exactly that took place.
But, I know I was enamored by the time travel aspect of the story. And, of course, I still am. What I wouldn’t give to be able to “go back in time” and redo what I’ve done in this life. Of course, I have no desire really to go into the future any faster than I’m going. But a redo would be great.
There’s no real option for that in Lighting, though. You can’t go back in time, only into the future. You can also only visit a particular point one time. No repeat visits since this would cause a paradox.
But, this doesn’t stop Stefan from really altering the future for everyone involved, including himself. By answering a single question of Churchill’s, Stefan single handedly changed the course of the future, creating a reality where there were no nuclear weapons and no world wars.
In retrospect, I really don’t want to travel through time. The only thing I would want to do would be to return to my childhood and relive my life again, but only with one caveat. I would want to retain all my memories and world events up until today. The problem with this is, of course, once I was teleported back into my 9 year old body I would be altering my original 9 year old experience, and would immediately diverge from what is my history (from my vantage point today). At that moment, not only would I (current I that I am today) cease to exist, but the 9 year old that I was at that moment would likewise cease to exist, and every iteration of who I was from 9 to 46 would cease to exist as well. Any influences I had on other people, anything I might have done to change the course of history (I can’t really think of any) would be erased and something else would fill the void.
So anything that I had planned to do different, any choice I wanted to make, any person I wanted to date or talk to or relationship I wanted to change (or lottery I wanted to win or stock I wanted to invest in) would theoretically change as well. There is really no telling what kind of influence all of your collective choices and actions have had on the reality you experienced in life.
Mostly I would want to immediately quite public school. The very first thing I would do once I realized where I was would be to go to the library and check out the book, Teenage Liberation Handbook. It is the one book that I discovered only in adulthood that I wished terribly I had discovered as a teen or adolescent. I would want to drop out of public school, find the requirements to start community college and then get a BA, MA, and PhD as fast as possible.
By the time I got even 6 months into this alternative life I would not be the person I was then or am today. I would be a completely different person and would be, thus, once again flying blind in the snowstorm of fate. I would have little advantage over my decisions again. It is possible that very distant circumstances would probably not change all that much. I could probably invest in Microsoft and Apple and would within a few years become financially independent. That is, of course, if the circumstances closer to my spheres of influence did not do me in (i.e. I’m thinking of marriage or having children). But even if I were to avoid such dire calamities, there is no telling where I would have ended up, or what my fate would have been.
I actually entertain a theory that, much like Stefan intervened in Laura’s life at a specific point (happened to be at birth) which altered her entire life going forward, I think God actually intervened in my life when I was 17 and did something to me (in me) that altered the course of my life as well. I’m beginning to think that there was another life that I intended to live (a counterfactual) that never actually came into existence because God supernaturally intervened in my life, took my karmic worldview from me, delimited my ability to meditate or study the martial arts (as I had done for several years up to that point), and replaced it with a theocentric worldview and an unquenchable thirst to study God’s Word. Since then, I’ve wandered pretty aimlessly through life, not really building anything substantial, not marrying well (now divorced), no children, distanced from my extended family, no real career, no typical hobbies, no relationships to speak of at all – and yet I am quite contented and almost obsessed with studying the Bible every day.
If all of this is true, and God works “all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose” (Ro 8:28), then what in God’s name did he spare me from in that other life? What was it I would do? What would I have become? Did I become the serial killer I always wanted to be and now only write about in my novels? Something worse? Would I have become a successful businessman and lived to make money and strike deals and live a life absent of God and faith and never come to Christ before I died? Is that what it was all about, my faith, and the cost of my faith was an aimless life?
Of course, the evangelicals would say that the purpose God did this when I was 17 would be so I could go out and evangelize and preach and teach. Yet, God has never really gifted me to do these things, nor did he remove my uncomfortableness around people which has only increased with age. I now live alone. I essentially work alone (actually in a locked office by myself, in an empty office building, during the days when no one else works). I do not socialize with other people and am striving for even more solitude and separation in the future.
The key, though, is I don’t want to do any of these more conventional things that other people do. I don’t have that drive within me that I need to be in a relationship or that I would prefer a bad relationship over no relationship. In fact, in my evangelical days, there was always something that drew me back to deserted places, to isolation, to separation from others, but I was told this was not “healthy.” After my break with evangelicals, I discovered in Christian literature whole generations that had the same draw as I did.
So, if I’m supposed to evangelize and go out and knock on doors, why did God not put within me a thirst to do this kind of work when he put within me a thirst to study his Word? I, personally, disagree with the knee-jerk response from evangelicals that say the only path to (and work for) God is through extroverted activities. The fact is, there have been monks in monasteries and solitary hermits in the forest for hundreds and hundreds of years longer than there have been modern evangelicals (or even baptists).
So, in reality, there really is no place I would want to travel by a time machine or even to return to some point in the timeline of my former self, even if I were equipped with all of my memories up until this point. Once I landed, all bets would be off, just like all the bets have been in this life I’m living now.
In reality, once in this life will be more than enough for me. In fact, I’m really kind of ready to go now. If I thought death was any kind of an escape from this life, I might be suicidal. But, given my current understanding of what happens (or what possibly happens since the only knowledgeable text on the subject is terribly cryptical and vague) immediately after death and where I’ll be spending my time until the resurrection, I’m not in any hurry to get started. But, if God would rather not have me wait any longer and the rapture could happen immediately, I am all for it. Bring on the judgment, please. For that I am more than ready.
[I’ve had second thoughts about returning to my pre-teen body if I were able to keep all the memories I have to-date. Once I returned to my 12 year old body, I would, indeed, begin to alter my own future and thus sever my past self from my future self and would become a completely different person. But, the reality is, my past new self would actually be a continuation of my current future self, just relocated into the past. Likewise, I would retain a tremendous advantage over my previous old self because of all the memories and experiences I could recall from my former life. Say I was able to get that book and quit the fallacy that is the pubic educational system, and then go on and quickly get a Ba, MA, and then a PhD, I would have all the lessons I learned doing this the first time around (getting my BA, MTS, and ThD, plus I would remember all the experiences I had teaching my step-children how to read and do math when they were homeschooled (even though I would only be 12). I would know at the age of 12 that the Martial Art would fall to MMA in the future, so I could simply avoid starting altogether. I would still have all of my memories relating to Christ’s saving grace, so I could circumvent my time in Satanism and Buddhism (though I would still retain the original memories of going through those experiences). Plus I would have all the horrible memories of being married and the lies my wife told at the beginning so I would not be going in blind in any relationship I chose to pursue in the future (or I could exercise the lesson I’ve learned in the last ten+ years and recognize that relationships are brutal and fraught with nothing but conflict and compromise and always seem to have someone getting over on someone else – and should be altogether avoided). I would know at the age of 12 that the military and the US government were not honest or faithful or moral actors and their promises were hollow and empty. I could avoid indentured servitude altogether (I would do my best to be well on my way of finishing grad school by the time I turned 18 so the military wouldn’t even be on the map – yet I would still be able to recall all the experiences I’d had in that previous life – keep in mind, even though I would be physically 12 again, my mind would still be 46 from the future with all the abilities of a fully formed adult). In the end, I actually think redoing my life would be a net positive, as long as I were able to keep those memories alive from my previous life. So, I do change my mind about this.]
What is Fate?
The reality is, there is only one fate for us – whatever God has predestined. In fact, I don’t think there will ever be a point in human history where humans will be able to manipulate time as it is depicted in the book. Look at the consequences of just bringing information from the future to a world leader. Imagine what would happen if prophecy in the Bible could be used to predict the future (which it cannot). Though, there is an argument to be made that Jesus expected (and held accountable) the Jewish people to know when he would come to them at his first coming. Because they rejected him (even though he was spoken of throughout the Old Testament and they were expected to know it) he destroyed Jerusalem and their entire way of life and scattered them throughout the world.
Fate, though, is certain. We are each marked by our maker and are known intimately by him (Matt 10:30-31). He determined everything we would do and say and think before we ever even existed (Eph 2:10; Ps 139:16; Ps 139:16). He knows what we will do, what we could do, and all of our days are numbered down to the hour, minute, and second, to the moment in which our soul will be required of us (Lu 12:20) and death will demand his toll, and will come and forcibly untether the recombinant components that make up the “living being” and will reduce us to some kind of disembodied existence, fully conscious, yet still in need of “being comforted” (Lu 16:25b), imprisoned for the remainder of eternity until God gives Christ the okay (that the fullness of the gentiles have come in – Ro 11:25) to go and redeem both the living and the dead.
My hope is that I or we can somehow tempt fate and that we can maybe “hasten the coming of the day of God” (2 Pe 3:12), for I am eagerly looking forward to his return (1 Cor. 1:7, 8; Titus 2:13–15).
A Savior has Ruined
I think reading this book in my teen years actually ruined me for genuine relationships. It kind of primed the pump of my own romanticism, fueling my desire to be someone’s hero and that love actually existed in the first place. I’m sure it does. Just not for me. For whatever reason, I was not engineered to participate in a healthy relationship. In imbalanced relationships, yes. I’ve got all the tools for that kind of thing. In relationships where the other person takes advantage of me or lies to get their way or what they want (or to get me to agree to the relationships in the first place). Nothing is really like the stories we tell each other, though. There are no time defying heroes out there to rescue us or damsels waiting to be rescued. There are many damsels who are waiting patiently to steal a man’s business and livelihood and personal wealth. And these damsels have no qualms about dangling children in plain view as a means of temptation.
Laura settled for Stefan after Danny died. She said it, “He’ll never be Danny.” And then her friend responds, “But, Danny’s gone.” Laura nodded. He was too melancholy for her own tastes, all things being equal. But she stayed with him because there was probably no one else that could hold her attention for very long, now that she’d been desensitized by extreme violence and brutality. He saved her, ultimately. But, really, she saved him. “A man out of time, a man for whom this era was not his destined home….recalling both the future that had once been and the future that had now come to pass in place of the old.”
There’s something enticing about stepping out of time, out of the flow of your own mortality, your own destiny, being a stranger in an island of time, where nothing really quite makes sense but what a comfort to not have really any identity or past or repercussions from either.
Maybe this book is the reason why I can’t really enjoy other novels today. There’s just something missing and I still can’t put my finger on what that is. It could be, of course, television and movies (though I really don’t watch most movies released today). Maybe television was bad enough back in the late 80’s and early 90’s that made reading books still a viable option. Today, of course, with shows like Stranger Things and Ozark and Lost and Supernatural, there is nothing left to the imagination. No description devoid of immense detail.
Maybe there is just no room anymore for real heroes or their stories.
What are Stories in the End?
I often ask myself this question and debate on what grounds the story or the characters within a story are real. How do we really know, when we put the book down, that those characters etched on the pages don’t continue to exist and move through their story just as they had when we were actively reading them? What’s to say that they don’t actually feel or sense their own mortality or their own existence just as we do? Maybe they have questions about their creator just as we have questions about God. How could we know for certain?
Or, are stories just that. Stories. fabrications. Imaginings from individuals that are just trying to work through emotional complexities they can’t internalize or are trying to occupy their mind through distraction. Isn’t that why we read books as it is? Distraction? Is that what God is doing with us? Are we a novelization for him as well? Do we exist off the page or are we actually a figment of God’s imagination, just like the characters in the stories we weave?
All I know for certain is I found this book at a particular time in my young life when I needed heroes (because I had discovered early on there really were none in the real world). I needed someone to love and someone to root for. I know they’re not real. Not in any specific way. But, maybe they are.
Until my next review….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from In the Meadow:
A second later, the engine roared to life, and Dawn glanced back, one last time, at the trailer she’d grown up in.
The empty yard.
The trail she’d blazed through the blackberries.
That gaunt looking trailer.
Everything she saw now looked so dirty and run down, almost a shambles.
It was like a dream.
Paul circled wide, then threw the truck in reverse and backed up. As he braked and put it back into drive, Dawn could see Harold’s place a few slips down.
Paul gave the truck some gas.
As they went by, she could see Harold standing outside, near his front door, motionless, watching them.
She didn’t mention the earlier conversation to Paul.
Why would she?
He was just a creepy ass guy, and one of the handful of things she didn’t have to deal with anymore.
They drove out the front gate of the trailer park, down the side street to the corner, Paul stopping for a moment as he waited on the traffic to clear.
He took her hand and smiled at her, then pulled out onto the highway, heading west.
They drove past the Ray’s Grocery Store, past the gas station, where Bart was out front, talking excitedly to the Desmond boy.
Paul kissed her hand and she smiled, laying her head back against the headrest.
There was nothing else standing in her way now.
As Dawn began to relax, she watched as her old life quickly dissipate into vapor in their wake.
For the first time in her life, she was leaving Oakridge. She was moving to an entirely different state, a new home, with the man of her dreams.
She’d never even been out of Oregon before.
“Now or never,” Paul said, as they drove past the trailhead sign, on the right.
Dawn tightened her grip on his hand.
She’d finally gotten her wish.
She was leaving Oakridge.
Buy my book In the Meadow to find out what Dawn will do as her perfect fairytale life begins to unravel. Are the girls calling out from the banks of the Skagit River trying to help her? Do they want to hurt her? What secrets will she find?
But, trust me when I say, this is going to be a roller coaster of a ride. People are dying all around her, and you have no idea what evil lurks in the meadow! Get started in this thriller story today and find out why they’re warning her…calling out to her….trying to tell her…to RUN!