Dead Trees: The Touch by F. Paul Wilson

I first read F. Paul Wilson’s The Touch way back in 1986. I was a twenty-five year old boy, rabidly in love with horror. And after The Keep, The Tomb, and some short pieces I had read, F. Paul Wilson was one of my favorite writers.

There’s a section near the beginning of The Touch. It’s describing a seafaring historical area of a small town…

The Illusion almost worked. He could almost imagine Ishmael, harpoon on shoulder, walking down the harbor toward the Pequod…passing the new Video Shack.

Well, nothing was perfect.

I loved that. I was a modern young man and I was head over heels for the home video explosion. It was a perfect time for me. A perfect time to be a horror fan.

The wheels of time have rolled along, and I have grown to be a somewhat disenchanted older man. I no longer love modern developments in movie and book distribution. I do not in any way feel that having nearly everything at our fingertips has made us a healthier or happier species.

But I was talking about F. Paul Wilson’s The Touch, was I not?

Re-reading this excellent novel last week made me nostalgic for a time when horror was a simpler genre. Novels, films, were coming out every single week, and though there was plenty of crap out there, it was pretty easy to tell the good stuff from the chum.

The Touch also made me feel wistful for the days when F. Paul Wilson was a horror writer. He did some SF early on, and continued to dabble in it occasionally, but for the most part Wilson was one of the stars of the horror field.

I think his best work is Black Wind, but The Touch may be my favorite. Oh, and for the record, I am referring to the original text, which is the only version I have read. I understand Paul has retooled The Touch to fit into his Adversary Cycle.

The Touch has all of the strengths that F. Paul Wilson has always possessed: great characters, a scary plot, medical details that enhance rather than detract from the story, action, romance, and an unhealthy dose of exotic peril.

Dr. Alan Bulmer is an anachronism. He’s a physician who believes in literally touching his patients. He treats people, not diseases. Dr. Bulmer fights dehumanizing political bureaucracy that threatens his profession, and he tries to be the best, most caring doctor he can be. But a creepy encounter with an old drunk leaves him with a gift: the power to heal with a touch.

It’s a gift that is also a curse. Bulmer begins to help people, but quicky finds that his efforts can only scratch the surface of the desperate sufferers in the world. He also has to battle to save his life, and the lives of his loved ones, from a powerful man who seeks to use Bulmer’s gift to his own advantage—and to Dr. Bulmer’s distinct disadvantage.

I consider The Touch to be a perfect example of horror of its era, which was smack dab in the middle of the fabled “Boom” so many of us loved, and so many others have heard too much about.

The horror peak was also the beginning of its downfall. By the time 1990 crashed in, people were declaring the genre to be dead. It wasn’t, of course, but the getting wasn’t so good anymore for horror writers. Especially traditional writers like F. Paul Wilson.

After The Touch, Wilson published a couple of SF/Fantasy books and a vast historical novel about World War 2; embarked on an incredibly ambitious cycle of stories and novels dealing with an Adversary; and wrote a series of unrelated medical thrillers—all of which I greatly enjoyed.

Gone, apparently, was the writer of perfect, singular gems of horror fiction like The Touch.

I said that I wasn’t crazy about publishing trends at the beginning of this piece. I think that publishers like recurring characters and situations. I think they love the ring of cash registers as annual books come out in established franchises.

I’ve followed F. Paul Wilson’s career with enthusiasm and gratitude, and I was never disappointed. Right up until his most recent books, which are called The ICE Sequence. I began the first book in the series, but it felt contrived and rather cynical. An attempt to create another Repairman Jack-type quirky action hero. I get no joy out of saying this, but I couldn’t bring myself to even finish reading it. Hopefully some of you get more enjoyment of the ICE books than I.

But we have all of those older books to fall back on, and you can do no better than The Touch. I recommend the original edit, which is easy to find in paperback, and rather more expensive as a hardcover. You can’t miss the original hardback, which was published by Putnam. The back cover displays a youthful Wilson against a backdrop of horrific dead trees.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

1 thought on “Dead Trees: The Touch by F. Paul Wilson”

Leave a Reply