Nightmare Journey is one of Dean Koontz’s early works. It concerns itself with one of Koontz’s abiding themes: people’s perplexing refusal to understand or even acknowledge the strengths of their mixed nature.
The journey of Jask and Tedesco is both physical and spiritual. It is a classic trek in the manner of Odysseus—a search for a place that itself becomes a goal. Thus the journey is replete with incidents reminiscent of all heroic journeys. The first section of the novel contains an episode involving robotic soldiers still programmed to carry out combat maneuvers centuries after their masters have died. In another episode, Jask encounters a giant crablike creature in the bowels of an ancient abandoned column. In the second section of the novel, the travelers voyage across the Hadaspuri Sea. Brought near to death by the mental probing of an alien being, they are saved only through the ingenuity of Melopina, who convinces her companions to pool their psychic abilities and communicate with the creature.
Nightmare Journey is a futuristic odyssey, a form Koontz uses to great advantage in many of his works, notably Watchers (1987) and Strangers (1986). The book is also a journey of another kind. For Jask, it is one of self-discovery, since he has long believed himself to be a “Pure,” without need of further self-definition. Traveling side by side with Tedesco, a reminder of “imperfection,” of the human race gone awry through genetic meddling, Jask stubbornly refuses to view his growing telepathic powers as a blessing. In the same way that he clings to the false history of man invented by the Pures, so he clings to their false definition of humans as creatures without need of telepathic powers.
What Jack discovers in Tedesco is the truth of history—that people once abandoned star travel because they encountered telepathic beings and rejected them. Koontz’s point is that contemporary racism eventually becomes futuristic xenophobia. What Jask discovers in Melopina is the love that breaks down barriers and conquers prejudice. His journey, therefore, is one in which he discovers the truth about both human nature and himself, in particular that humans at their “purest” reach out in tolerance and love.