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Another case of missed opportunities--does Watson lose his nerve, or run out of steam, or what?--from the author of The Book of the Stars (p. 513). In a future where, supposedly, no one fears death, euthanasia is everyone's right and obligation. Jim Todhunter is a guide in the House of Death; his function is to comfort and enlighten the dying. Just as Jim arrives to take up his duties, a wild man shoots dead a pompous composer Of doggerel, ""poet"" Norman Harper, who was giving his ""retirement"" speech (i.e., preparing to enter the House of Death). Jim is assigned to conduct the death of the murderer, Nathan Weinberger, a fugitive from the House of Death (he's dying of cancer). Weinberger claims he's detected an actual, devilish presence that comes to collect the souls of the dying, and has constructed an elaborate experiment in order to capture one of the creatures. Jim decides to go along with all this. So Weinberger, with himself as the experimental subject, duly ""catches"" something that can be seen only as a remotely receding reflection. Weinberger clings tightly to the creature, though it causes him great pain; days later, the creature leaves--and Weinberger is miraculously cured! Wholly convinced, Jim sets up some astro-traveling experiments with Weinberger in order to discover what the death-creature is and where it's from. Eventually, they partly solve the mystery. But then, in a deflating and utterly disappointing windup, we learn that Jim is actually insane; all of the above is a delusion, he's really being treated by a revolutionary new radiation machine, and the other characters are his doctors. So, like Converts, Watson again arrays some wonderful ideas, and then, instead of fully developing them, packs them all carefully back in the box. Shame!

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1986
Publisher: St. Martin's