As I like to say on Twitter, we’re living in a slow-rolling zombie novel.
If you think people are getting dumber, you’re probably right. Research suggests that, as carbon dioxide levels rise in our atmosphere, people will lose intelligence because they can’t think as clearly.
Since carbon dioxide levels are still rising, we don’t know where all this stupidity bottoms out. It depends on how high the carbon dioxide level goes.
Beyond a certain point, we won’t be able to count on science to save us, because nobody’s going to remember how to do the science.
On that little note of cheer, I bring you this review of Arthur Herzog III’s 1978 horror novel IQ 83.
Herzog was a novelist who enjoyed considerable success during the 1970s-era paperback boom. The late ’70s were especially good to him. Two movies were produced from his work:
* Orca: The Killer Whale (1977) — a Jaws knock-off starring Richard Harris only with, you know, an orca instead of a shark.
* The Swarm (1978) — an Irwin Allen horror romp with an A-list cast starring Michael Caine and up to 22 million bees, including 800,000 with their stingers removed. All for naught, since the illustrious wisdom of Wikipedia informs us that Olivia de Havilland was stung anyway.
Hey, Amethyst, those weren’t such good movies.
Maybe not. But the books were good enough to sell to big producers and get made into big multimillion-dollar flops with big-name stars. If you or I did that well, we’d die happy.
It’s no spoiler to say Herzog knew how to keep the pages turning. The man could create a sense of horror.
Back up. I didn’t actually turn any pages. I listened to the audiobook narrated by Charles Henderson Norman. The logline to the book in my Audible library is positively brilliant:
“Dr. James Healey searches for the cure for the horror he’s unleashed upon the world as each day the dimming of your mind lowers your chance of finding it…”
Try to beat that as a premise for a horror novel.
As usual for the genre, the action is compressed. People get visibly dumber in days, and society is on the verge of collapse within weeks.
It’s a race against time to find a cure before everybody is too stupid to do anything about it and too Dunning-Kruger to care.
Some of you — and I was one of them — now know everything you need to know to go give it a listen. It’s absolutely terrifying without being gory.
But there are a few quibbles...
Because it was published in 1978 about 1978, IQ 83 has some dated elements. You can tell the author wants to be inclusive and offer diversity, but, at the end of the day, the brilliant white male is in charge. There’s a token Black guy and a token brilliant yet beautiful young woman on the research team, but they don’t do much.
Come to think of it, all the women in Dr. Healey’s life are brilliant. His wife is a tax attorney. His daughter is a math genius destined (one presumes) to follow in wifey’s tracks.
Even his mother, who’s entering the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, is still high-functioning enough to get away with scamming the other residents of her Manhattan apartment building.
However, once the virus escapes from Healey’s lab, the women are among the first to be bimbo-fied. Along with their brains, they lose their inhibitions. The casual misogyny might be hard to take for some readers.
We are all creatures of our time. Paperbacks of the era demanded a random sex scene or two, so Herzog dutifully included them.
Also because 1978, we’re told what DNA is and maybe a little more about how viruses spread than we need to be told in 2022. I put my speed on 1.5x for that part.
As for the story itself? For all its flaws, it’s absolutely brilliant at creating a growing feeling of dread and horror. We begin with a happy, brilliant, upper-middle-class family living their best life in Manhattan, complete with a country home in Connecticut — and we have a front-row seat to watch it all come apart.
Lyme hasn’t yet ravaged the state or, if it has, no one realizes yet, so our hero enjoys getting outdoors to literally stalk deer. He has no desire to kill these four-legged disease vectors. He only wants to test his skills at tracking.
No Lyme-disease-carrying ticks. No cell phones. No TikTok.
No one knows yet that a president of the United States can literally have Alzheimer’s and no one will mention it in public until he’s long out of office.
Into this innocent paradise comes the serpent of stupidity.
In a traffic jam on the way home to Manhattan from the lovely country house, some impatient idiot rams the back of the family vehicle. Our hero emerges to confront the idiot — or at least get his insurance information — and somehow ends up getting smacked in the head.
This early accident allows us (and Dr. Healey) to hope, wistfully, that maybe he had a severe brain injury of some sort and all this is happening in his mind but not, you know, the entire world. Long after the reader accepts the virus is real, poor Healey tries to circle back on the concussion theory.
See, for long periods of the book, no one even knows why they’re doing stupid things or having stupid thoughts. Many people don’t even notice they’re being stupid — or at least they pretend they don’t.
Herzog does a great job of making you feel the growing horror of what it’s like to lose your marbles. The fear. The denial. The covering up.
And, often, the anger.
Stupid people who don’t know what’s going on often get angry. We all get frustrated when we can’t understand a situation. And we don’t always assume our lack of understanding is due to some lack in ourselves.
Instead, we often assume we’re being deceived somehow. Lied to. Tricked.
Nothing’s wrong with me. It’s you.
You’re gaslighting me. You’re lying. You’re trying to tie me up in knots.
Frustration leads to paranoia leads to rage. A dangerous progression.
Also, I think, a familiar one.
For all its imperfections, IQ 83 has a pretty good grasp on human nature.
The ending is rushed. Horror novels aren’t interested in how we clean up this mess. But Herzog does take a moment to show a quick encounter with a vaccine-hesitant guy.
That guy is almost the very first guy Dr. Healey encounters after his headlong rush to the cure.
Zombies are made quickly. They will be unmade slowly.
Author's note: A slightly different version of this review was originally published elsewhere. If you enjoyed reading it here, please tap that <3 button and/or leave a small tip to let me know.
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About the Creator
Seeker, traveler, birder, crystal collector, photographer. I sometimes visit the mysterious side of life. Author of "The Moldavite Message" and "Crystal Magick, Meditation, and Manifestation."