The Parasite (aka To Wake the Dead)

by Ramsey Campbell

She was edging closer to the brink of what she had used to believe was reality. Nothing seemed solid enough to comfort her now.

Avid horror readers know something of the occult, even if only by osmosis. Because the field is rife with reports of secret knowledge, taboo by entrenched religion, firmly believed in by loudmouth crackpots and quietly practiced by intelligentsia, a fertile ground for authors has been established and countless books have been written. Some hint at it, some touch on it, and this novel dwells on it.

The story focuses on one of the main tenants of modern occultism, astral projection. Rose experiences a kind of spiritual awakening and is terrified as she’s pulled away from her life into a darkened realm without warning—repeatedly. She seeks help and begins adapting to her awareness, reading and researching, and her studies lead her to historical occurrences of Hitler’s occult research, the Rosicrucians, the Order of the Golden Dawn, and many other references to a very real, very colorful occult past.

Rose’s confidence grows and her new strengths begin affecting her behavior in negative ways, but she quickly learns she may not have as much control over the magic as she thought.

The quiet terror of facing the unknown space of astral projection takes time to develop as the young acolyte embarks on her first journeys. When Rose begins overcoming her fear of the nightmarish realm and begins embracing her new power, fear gives way to elation. But the bulk of the story occurs as she goes deeper and confronts the changes occurring within her. Her increasing ability to control her travels gives her a bravado that only lasts until she realizes just how far out of her depth she’s gone. Her excitement gives way to terror again, and  yes, all of this takes time. Rushing through it would diminish the journey, and the psychological impact of these powers needs its space on the page.

They said it was slow, those reviewers who’d posted the comments read before deciding to pick this one up. But just because a book doesn’t have monstrous evil plucking the legs off helpless humans all the way through doesn’t mean you have a slow book. This one’s effective, and more so that it takes the time required to bring the reader along on Rose’s journey. There are terrifying passages in the book, and while it does accelerate near the end, these faster-paced sequences are no more horrific than those of a young magician’s sanity progressively being threatened by forces unknown.

The Parasite is scary, and if you have a little patience and let the atmosphere congeal around you, choking you towards the same oblivion as Rose, you’re in for one hell of ride—very, very highly recommended.

It was the ultimate childhood nightmare of being lost in the dark–and the dark was reaching out for her with its infinite limbs.


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