Death Is Easy

Russell Madden

Freedom As If It Mattered

As If
It Mattered
Russell Madden

Guardian Project

The Guardian
Russell Madden


Russell Madden




Russell Madden



F. Paul Wilson, Fatal Error, Gauntlet Publications, 2010, 350 pp., $60.00.

F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack novel, Fatal Error, brims with creeping horror and dread. Like passengers in a roller coaster slowly but inexorably chugging to the tallest peak of a long ride, we experience the mounting tension that clutches at our guts. Cringing, we await the sudden and inevitable heart-thumping plunge we realize is coming but are powerless to avoid. With only a single narrative (The Dark at the End) remaining between us and the ultimate chaos of Nightworld, we know that the terror of the Change will soon engulf Jack and his world...and the loved ones he has vowed to protect.

The story begins prosaically — yet disgustingly — enough as computer programmer Munir Habib exposes himself one cold winter morning at Fifth Avenue and Central Park in New York City. He proceeds to urinate in front of the streaming crowds of people and drivers. What would drive such a seemingly quiet and unassuming man to such a socially vile act? Oddly enough, his motivation is similar to Jack’s: to save his wife and son from torture and death.

Even more coincidentally — or perhaps not? — the racist maniac who pushes Munir to unspeakable limits derives boundless joy from the physical and emotional agony he inflicts on innocent others in much the same way that the Adversary — Rasalom — does on those whose existences he disrupts or destroys without reservation or regret.

Given the turmoil in his own life, Jack is understandably reluctant to become involved in the tribulations of a stranger who would seemingly be better off utilizing the resources of the police in solving his problem. After all, Jack is still concerned for the safety of his childhood friend, “Weezy,” a.k.a., Louise Connell (Myers, to the Septimus Order which is still searching for her). His girlfriend, Gia, and her daughter, Vicky, remain top priorities, especially given Gia’s vision that the world ends in a few short months. Then there is Veilleur (Glaeken), one time champion of the Ally, now an old man reduced to hiding from the enemy he once conquered; the “Lady” whose death would herald the triumph of the Otherness; Eddie, Weezy’s naive brother whose impetuous desire to help his sister threatens not only her life but his own; Jack’s weapon supplier and old friend, Abe; Dawn Pickering, a young woman Jack pledged to protect, pawn in the game between the Ally and the Otherness and mother to a monstrosity; and, well, the entire human race.

In computer lingo, a “fatal error” is a mistake or flaw in a program or operating system from which there is no recovery. In Fatal Error, the potential destruction of the Internet figures prominently in the machinations of Rasalom — Mr. Osala — and those like the Kickers and the Septimus Order who unwittingly or not act on his behalf. The Internet they plot to take down is the sustaining force behind the Lady, the only entity (person?) holding the enemy at bay. Kill the one, Rasalom believes, and he kills the other.

Moving from the virtual to the real world, a fatal error is a lapse in judgment, a bad decision, a mistaken action that results in one’s death...and from such an end, there is no “reboot” possible.

Fatal Error is filled with examples of individuals on both sides of this cosmic struggle who commit such irreversible miscalculations. Sometimes the disastrous course of action is innocent: a misplaced trust; a protective instinct; a hope of removing a threat; a desire to do good. Other times the people who tread such fatal paths do so from evil intent. They operate from an unwarranted confidence in their own power; seek rewards that are merely illusions, lies to destructive ends; or fail to realize that there is no honor among thugs, thieves, and murderers.

Anyone who underestimates Repairman Jack, of course, is begging for trouble. Jack is like a force of nature: get out of his way or be prepared to suffer the negative consequences. Even though he prefers simply to live his own life and indulge such hobbies as collecting old “radio premiums, cereal giveaways, comic strip tie-ins” (p. 21), when someone or something threatens his values and those he values, he seeks peace not by running away but by taking the offensive against those arrayed against him.

Ironically enough, while Jack chafes under his promise to Veilleur not to take the battle to Rasalom or try to destroy that enemy, he constantly finds himself attempting to avoid the amorphous yet all-encompassing State that continues to tighten its tentacles around its citizens. There is little he can do to confront a culture that demands he remain unarmed; that he subject himself to constant surveillance; that he carry identification and permission from the State to “prove” who he is and what he is allowed to do. All he can do is seek to game the system, to hide, to lie, to do what he can to retain the remnants of his wealth, his independence, his dignity, his life as he wants to live it. Unfortunately, the niche of breathing space he has carved for himself continues to shrink under the relentless pressure of a world that — like the Otherness — wants to control...everything.

On a deeper level, of course, that control is illusory. As Fatal Error makes abundantly clear when Jack embarks on a seemingly hopeless rescue trip to LaGuardia Airport, the very advances that make modern life so comfortable make us exceptionally vulnerable to their disruption in a way never possible before our technological marvels insinuated themselves into so many areas of our lives. Maintaining the values that too many people take for granted — whether those values are such things as the Internet or modern transportation systems or intangibles like liberty and love — requires constant work and diligence. Destruction — death — is easy. Any fool or charlatan or demon can achieve such goals. Unfortunately for them — and the rest of us — by the time such sick souls realize their fatal error in believing they can benefit in the long run from the obliteration of the good, it will be too late for far too many people.

In Fatal Error, Wilson drags the reader along a road fraught with fear and deadly surprises. Uncomfortable though such a trek can often be, in the end, the journey is worth the cost. In the face of such mortal tribulations, people have two choices: to cower from those who seek and thrill at our submission or to collide with such heinous forces head-on and to know that, whether we succeed or fail, at least we — like Repairman Jack — valued our lives enough to fight for our world with all the strength we possess.