The Santaroga Barrier
by Frank Herbert
In one of my earlier reviews
] I mentioned that I found Frank Herbert's Dune
series monumentally boring. Actually that's oversimplifying a bit. I thought the first book or so was quite fascinating, and I am apparently one of the rare fans of David Lynch
's cult film based on it
. The original, fascinating concept was increasingly buried in dry, philosophical drivel as the series progressed, and it simply grew so tedious that I kept having to take breaks and read other books before coming back to it.
On the other hand, there is this very straightforward, stand-alone novel of horror and suspense, set in an obscure California valley that has tried, and until now succeeded to an amazing extent, staying self-sufficient and aloof from the outside world. Along comes Gilbert Dasein, a graduate student who carries a torch for one of the valley's well-educated young women. And I'm not sure who is more disturbed by this contact from the outside world-- Dasein, or the Valley.
What you gradually realize as you read this book, is that everyone who lives in Santaroga is connected to a kind of hive mind. And that connection has something to do with a mysterious substance called Jaspers, which gets into their wine and beer and cheese and aged meat and canned vegetables and, basically, anything edible that is grown in town and stored in its cool underlying caves.
Exactly what Jaspers is, and what it does, may keep your head scratching. Is it an intelligence on its own account? Or is it simply a catalyst for this mental link that has turned the whole valley into one organism with a very nasty sense of self-preservation? Is it trying to draw Dasein in, or force him out? And if you happen to stop at a café in a lonely valley where folks are distinctly unwelcoming, and all the food has a strange but subtle undertaste, are you going to wonder about Jaspers too?
Don't be silly, you say. Well, all right. But even now, several years after I last read The Santaroga Barrier, I can't look at a piece of cheese or a mug of beer without the word Jaspers whispering itself in the back of my mind... What I'm saying is, this is one of those little-known masterpieces that may stick with you long after you've turned the last page.
Recommended Age: 14+
If you would like to contact Robbie, you may do so here.