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Literature / Death Trance

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"Death Trance" is a 1986 horror novel by Scottish author Graham Masterton inspired by Balinese mythology and folklore.

Randolph Clare is the successful owner of a successful company in the cotton oil business. He incurs the wrath of a greedy and ruthless big businessman, who sets out to destroy his life when he will not play along with unethical and destructive business practices. First one of his factories is bombed, and then his wife and three children are horribly murdered. While in a hospital recovering from the shock of hearing this, he meets Dr. Amara, a practicing Hindu, who tells Randolph about the Hindu belief in reincarnation, and mentions people who may be able to contact the dead. This brings him into contact with a rebellious and disaffected young psychic with some training by Indonesian monks, who guides him into entering the Otherworld by means of the Death Trance. Dr. Amara warns that there is terrible danger in seeking the death trance, as leyaks — zombie-like creatures — inhabit the plane of reality one enters, waiting to grab souls for the Death Goddess in hopes that she will grant them rest. The book moves from the cotton fields of Tennessee to Indonesia and back. Clare is pursued not only by the leyaks, but also by the team of psychopathic Vietnam vets working as enforcers and hit-men for the ruthless Big Bad. These men, who raped, tortured and murdered his wife and daughter, are deadly adversaries but meet their match through their contempt for "gook culture".

This work has examples of:

  • Amoral Afrikaner: Dutch emigrants who colonised the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia today) tended to behave towards native Javanese and Sumatrans much as their pseudo-countrymen did towards the native populations of South Africa. Their spirits after death find themselves tied to the graveyards where they were buried - a sort of never-changing Hades where they cannot leave or move on.
  • Astral Projection: The technique for crossing into the Otherworld via the Death trance - except this allows something of the physical form to cross too.
  • Body of Bodies: The manifestation of the Death Goddess.
  • Dream Land: The Otherworld. And you don't only get to die in dreams...
  • Elvis Lives: Believed by cabbie Stanley Vergo.
  • Mystical Plague: An unpleasant orphaned plot-line, in a discourse on Balinese evil spirits active in the world, asserts that AIDS was introduced this way when an evil spirit of sickness and death possessed the body of a susceptibly debauched and drug-addicted gay man in a brothel in Thailand, so as to spread the new disease.
  • Greed: The motivating factor for the Big Bad.
  • Necromantic: Dr Amara's attempt to resurrect his dead wife. It doesn't end well.
  • Phantom-Zone Picture: The recommended method for destroying leyaks. in the old days, monks good at art (and at drawing fast) were sent into the Death Trance with parchment, paper and a book of matches to sketch any leyak they encountered. Then after demonstrating to the leyak they'd captured his likeness on paper, they'd set fire to it, destroying the demon by Sympathetic Magic. Balinese monks welcomed the invention of the polaroid camera in much the same way old soldiers welcomed repeating rifles over single-shot.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: The protracted rape and torture of Randolph Clare's wife and daughter.
  • Stab the Picture: The Balinese monks who fight the undead leyaks use this as a weapon. Formerly, they made fast pencil sketches of the leyak, then tore them up or set fire to them. At the time of the novel, they have discovered Polaroid cameras work better. Once they have a likeness of the creature, setting fire to it will destroy the undead.
  • Torture Porn: The rape scene; also the mooks' torture of the black guy who knows where to find Randolph and his buddies.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Potentially so. At the end of the book, at least one leyak has made it from the Otherworld into our plane of reality and is killing people across America.