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Literature / Lightning

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Lightning is a 1988 novel by Dean Koontz.

The story chronicles the life of Laura Shane, a novelist who is protected by a mysterious guardian. The identity is gradually revealed over the course of the book, but remains uncertain for nearly half the story. Since just knowing this identity constitutes a bit of a spoiler, proceed at your own risk.

The stranger turns out to be a time-traveling Nazi named Stefan Krieger, who has fallen in love with Laura. Alternating between plots in 1944 and the present day (which takes place progressively between 1955 and 1989), Stefan and Laura fight to keep her life stable and protect her from constant tragedy on one end, while preventing the Nazis from using time travel to win the war on the other end.

This book provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: 'Destiny struggles to reassert the pattern of what is meant to be'.
  • Bad Ass In A Nice Suit : The time traveling Nazis wear Yves St Laurent pinstripes and RayBan Cool Shades, the "power suit" of the late The '80s.
  • Bad Future: One of the primary drivers of the story.
    • Unless they are stopped, the Nazis will use time travel to win the war.
    • Stefan originally begins meddling in Laura's life when he sees her for the first time in a wheelchair. She is paralyzed due to a botched delivery at birth. His first trip prevents the drunken doctor from delivering her.
    • Later he protects her from various other serious childhood traumas, including injury, death, and multiple rapes.
  • Been There, Shaped History: done by Stefan by sheer accident. As part of his plan to destroy the time-travel institute, Stefan 'jaunts' to England 1944 to visit with Winston Churchill to talk him into bombing the institute. While there, Churchill asks an idle question about the future of Russia, and Stefan tells him. It turns out that Churchill talked everyone into continuing the fight after Germany was defeated and turned on Russia; meaning the USSR never formed, Germany never split, and The Cold War never started!
  • Call-Back: done in-universe. One of the scenes of Laura's time with her father is about the start of a childhood game, about an invisible house guest named Sir Tommy Toad, 'a fine upstanding toad, a gentleman toad here on the Queen's business'. Danny first becomes aware of Laura when he reads a short story of hers based on her and her father's adventures with Tommy Toad, and initially courts her with anonymous gifts of toad figurines. Laura keeps Sir Tommy's tiny umbrella, scarf and rubber boots all through her own life, and when her son Chris is about six, she pulls them out and starts the game all over again. It's also mentioned that she's writing a children's book about Sir Tommy Toad's adventures.
    • Another, touching one. When Danny and Laura first meet, he babbles that he fell in love with her through her writing. When Laura and Stefan finally meet properly, when she asks why he's done all of this for her, he tells her pretty much the same thing. Which also explains why Laura believes him that it's that simple... it already happened to her once.
  • Cool Guns: Laura and the Nazis carry Uzis. Lampshaded by the SS officers, who don't like that the guns are of Israeli design.
  • Dated History: The book was published ten years before it was revealed to the public that Churchill did have a plan to attack the Soviet Union, rightly called Operation Unthinkable.
  • Death by Childbirth: Janet Shane, Laura's mother. It's implied the same thing might have happened to Laura without the improvement of medical treatment in the decades between.
  • Defector from Decadence: Longed for by Stefan; he was the son of one of Hitler's earliest supporters, thus firmly ensconced among the Nazi elite years before he was old enough and experienced enough to realize just how awful things were. But he was in such an exalted position that he couldn't quit without being immediately suspected and killed. He started feeding information to the Allies as early as 1938; but he can't escape the Nazi party until the end of the book - by taking the Lightning Road to the future and staying there.
  • Department of Child Disservices: Most of Laura's childhood caretakers are pretty useless.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Laura's husband, Danny. Mortally wounded, he charges the gun-wielding Nazi trying to kill his wife and son, enabling Stefan to kill Kokoschka and save Laura and Chris' lives.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: takes a hell of a lot of work, though.
  • The Eeyore: Stefan; a logical conclusion of growing up in the Nazi party. Even four years after the main story, and becoming Laura's lover and part of her and Chris' family, Laura still calls him 'melancholy'. Part of the reason Stefan fell in love with Laura was that her original-timeline books taught him hope.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Stefan had one of these pre-story. In fact, it's what prompts the entire story: After spending his late adolescence and young adulthood as a Nazi - his father was one of Hitler's first supporters - Stefan became sickened by the things he was ordered to do, but as one of the first SS members he couldn't just quit without being suspected. While on a 'jaunt' to the future, Stefan wandered into a book signing by the then-disabled Laura. He read all Laura's books and was inspired by them. His ongoing mission to change her life for the better isn't just because he fell in love with her, but as a thank you for helping him change for the better.
  • Fix Fic: In universe. Laura writes a book named "The Amazing Appleby Twins", with the titular twins based on Thelma and Ruth Ackerman. The character based on Ruth lives a very long time.
  • Foreshadowing: a couple of small but subtle examples. Firstly, when Stefan prevents a drunken doctor from going to Laura's delivery, he tells the doctor that the reason his son's death turned him into a depressed, cowardly drunk was because he'd otherwise had a charmed life and never learned to cope with adversity or tragedy. Much later in the book, Laura asks Stefan why he didn't keep certain awful things from happening (see My Greatest Failure) in her life; he replies that he couldn't keep everything bad from happening, or she might never have developed the strength or perseverance to deal with adversity. Secondly, when discussing how the Nazi's couldn't change their past, but only change their future/Laura's past, Stefan remarks that if Laura's past changed she would never know the difference - if the Institute made the changes to their present they wanted to, Laura would simply think she'd always live in the world of the Third Reich. After his final jaunts to the past, and that discussion with Winston Churchill, Stefan is the only person who remembers a world with The Cold War instead of universal democracy.
  • Genius Bruiser: Danny Packard, Laura's eventual husband, is six and a half feet tall, built like a WWE wrestler, and a former soldier who made it out of Vietnam. He's also a first-rate stockbrocker, and excellent with all kinds of investment matters.
  • Genre Savvy: The doctor in the second half of the story is a fan of various thrillers, noting that often when a beautiful woman with a gun encounters the hero, at some point they will "make mad, passionate love". When a beautiful woman with a gun shows up at his door in the wee hours, he bemoans the fact that he's too old to enjoy it.
  • Happily Married: Laura and Danny were this. Thelma and Jason. It's implied this will eventually happen with Laura and Stefan.
  • Hereditary Twinhood: By the end of the book, Thelma (born a twin, whose sister Ruth died in adolescence) is pregnant with twins herself.
  • Hollywood Homely: Laura's best friend Thelma Ackerson considers herself unattractive, but manages to find a handsome, rich husband when she's in her thirties.
  • Hope Spot: Near the end of the book, Stefan succeeds in setting up the destruction of the institute, only to return and find that Nazis have killed Laura and Chris in the few minutes since he left. Stefan has to return to the institute, while the timer is ticking, and arrange to pass a message to them within the few minutes he was gone, since he himself can't return to a time he's already in.
  • Inspirationally Disabled: Laura was this in the original timeline. Stefan's first jaunt prevents this.
  • In Spite of a Nail: An altered timeline keeps trying to grow closer to its original form. This is the reason why Laura requires so many interventions by Stefan - in the original timeline she was disabled from birth and never married, so the world conspires to cripple her and kill her son (since he was never meant to be conceived in the first place). It's also implied to be the reason that Thelma is pregnant with twins at the end of the book; not just because she is an identical twin herself, but because Ruth was supposed to live.
  • Lightning Can Do Anything : Time travel from the Nazi institute is always accompanied by apocalyptic lighting and thunder.
  • Little Miss Snarker: Thelma Ackerson is twelve when we meet her, and her dialogue is a constant stream of wry jokes. She grows up to be a standup comic.
  • Mama Bear: Laura, after Chris is born.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: So Dean Koontz writes a story where the gorgeous, brilliant, talented, highly respected, Nazi fighting main character just happens to be a best selling novelist...
  • My Greatest Failure: Poor Stefan has two of these when it comes to Laura: firstly, not being able to prevent Danny's death, although Stefan honestly tried to save him and couldn't because of circumstances out of his control. A better fit might be Laura's final confrontation with Willy the pedophile janitor: Stefan warns him away from Laura, which works for awhile. At one point, Stefan checks newspaper articles and finds that Willy's dead, and Laura's safe, so doesn't interfere any further. He has no idea that Willy came after Laura at her new foster home, where she had to kill him herself. The shock of coming upon the bloody scene causes a fatal heart attack in Laura's new foster mother, which robs Laura of the chance to be Happily Adopted. Then Willy's death triggers Tammy's suicide by immolation, which also kills Ruth Ackerman. Laura actually asks him about this; he replies that he couldn't fix everything for her, (that might cause her enormous damage in itself, never letting her learn perseverance and courage in adversity) only prevent catastrophe and disaster.
  • Orphanage of Fear: While McIlroy House itself isn't too bad, it employs a janitor named Willy Sheener, who's a pedophile who tries to rape Laura. According to Thelma and Ruth, it's not the first time either.
  • Properly Paranoid: After the death of her husband, Laura resolves to Never Be Hurt Again by turning her house into a fortress, taking martial arts lessons and getting into firearms in a big way. It all seems a bit excessive... but given that the world is literally conspiring to restore an original timeline where she was in a wheelchair and her son was never born, and that she ends up having to fight time-traveling Nazis, it was probably a good call. She still decides to tone it down a bit at the end of the novel, though.
  • Self-Immolation: Tammy. Even sadder, she takes Thelma's twin, Ruth with her.
  • Stalker with a Crush: averted. In the first half of so of the book, the reader tends to wonder whether Stefan is this, but it turns out to be an up to eleven version of I Want My Beloved to Be Happy. Stefan never does anything to interfere with Danny's courtship of and eventual marriage to Laura, and tries to prevent his death without Kokoschka's interference he would have succeeded.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: Nazis. Time machine. Enough said.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: No one ever tells anything important to the head of the McIlroy house, because even the kids can tell she's bad at her job and she doesn't actually like children anyway. Which is why she's later blindsided by the janitor being killed while trying to rape a former inmate, and his 'favorite' victim later killing herself and taking another child with her. Even worse, why did none of the children ever report Willy 'the Eel' Sheener? Because he wasn't the first pervert to work at McIlroy House. When a young boy dared to report the previous pedophile, the other boys were too scared to back him up, and the staff harassed the boy until he had a nervous breakdown. Not to mention that because of her twisted need of Willy's approval, Tammy sometimes helps Willy trap other victims. She ends up constantly rooming with Thelma, Ruth and Laura because everyone else uses her as a punching bag as they see her as the enemy, too.
  • Title Drop: the time-travel machine is nicknamed the Lightning Road.
  • The Reveal: Stefan's plotline is written very carefully; the reader comes to the same conclusion that Laura does, that he's from a Bad Future. It's not until after they actually meet that we find out Stefan's from Nazi Germany.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Laura's father Bob was of this opinion about him and Janet.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: we never find out what happened to the staff or other children of McIlroy house after the deaths of Tammy and Ruth. Given the scandals of those deaths, plus the pedophile janitor, who'd preyed on the home's children for years, being killed because he broke into the home of a former inmate and tried to rape her, which resulted in the death of another woman, you'd think at the very least there would be a big staff turnover, maybe even the home being shut down altogether.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: of sorts. The epilogue, titled 'Ever After' clears up the details about what happened in the three/four years after the main story. Its mostly straight narrative rather than full scenes, because it would take a novella to show in full and most of it's not very interesting, with several Time Skips. Laura spends a full year playing verbal Cat and Mouse with various branches of law enforcement, while Stefan hides out with Thelma and her husband. Stefen moves into Laura's spare room for several months, until they finally become a couple almost two years after the final showdown. Thelma becomes pregnant with twins.