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Brainchild

Novel by Andrew Neiderman 1981.

Lois Wilson is a high-school student, immensely intelligent, but seemingly aloof and condescending towards other people. She also seems pretty devoid of any emotion. Her main area of interest has turned towards behavioural modification, and she has already started to apply her theories to real life situations with lab animals. She begins subtle experiments with human subjects, namely her family; but when her father has a second stroke, this time leaving him almost totally paralysed, her long-awaited opportunity arises. She enlists the unknowing help of her young brother (who has already been conditioned to obey her over his mother) in attempting a startling experiment which, if successful, would result in her father's full recovery. But her college tutor in behavioural science comes to her father's rescue, after becoming suspicious about a certain project she is undertaking for his class but for which she has not actually produced any results yet...

After Let's Go Play at the Adams', I didn't think I'd ever come across a better horror/suspense novel, but this is outstanding. I don't know if Neiderman has partially based his story on real life experience, but much of it rings so true I'd be surprised if Lois at least isn't substantially based on a real person. I'm not a scientist and my knowledge of behavioural psychology is very limited, but some of Lois' attitudes (and some of the other students' attitudes towards Lois) sparked off uncanny memories for me, even to the extent of personal quirks and turns of phrase. There are similarities to both Virginia Andrews's Flowers in the Attic; and the horrific true story of 'Genie', the young American girl who was locked in one room (mostly in one chair) for the entire first 13 years of her life, cut off both from the outside world and from any form of language, as she was punished every time she made a noise.

The end of the novel is similar to Robert Bloch's Psycho, but where Norman Bates was undisputedly the bad guy, in Brainchild, what did Lois actually do wrong, apart from just going a bit too far? Surely society is the bad guy for being unable to cope with the rare geniuses it produces, and for being unwilling to help them or to provide them with the support they require; preferring instead to drag them down to the lowest common denominator and turn them into 'normal people', in other words classifiable, controllable zombies. I could go on praising this book until I ran out of superlatives, but suffice it to say that I read this in the bath and I was almost frozen when I finished. I literally couldn't put it down until I'd finished the last page, and some of the ideas were still rolling about in my head months later. Never mind just the horror genre, in my humble opinion, this is one of the most accomplished novels ever written in any genre.


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