Ever since his life was shattered by the kidnapping and murder of his young daughter, Peter Russell has become a ghost of a man. Once a successful director of adult films, he has been reduced to running questionable errands for an eccentric California millionaire. But everything changes when a Los Angeles start-up offers him the opportunity to create promotional videos for their revolutionary new technology, Trans. The product offers exceptionally powerful, crystal-clear mobile communication that can operate anywhere and everywhere—and Peter sets out to put it into every palm.
But as he uses the device himself, he starts to see his murdered little girl . . .
Soon, there are other voices—disembodied, confused, angry—emanating from a newly invaded dimension. Many are even malevolent . . . and hungry . . . and deadly. As the death toll of Trans-users skyrockets, Peter’s life begins a new spiral downward. Now, he must race to make sense of the horror Trans has wrought before the gateway to Hell bursts wide open.
With Dead Lines, author of the Eon series Greg Bear transforms the literary realm of Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, and Stephen King into something unique by ingeniously blending the speculative with the supernatural. You’ll never look at your phone the same way again.
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About the Author
Greg Bear, author of more than twenty-five books that have been translated into seventeen languages, has won science fiction’s highest honors and is considered the natural heir to Arthur C. Clarke. The recipient of two Hugos and four Nebulas for his fiction, he has been called “the best working writer of hard science fiction” by The Science Fiction Encyclopedia. Many of his novels, such as Darwin’s Radio, are considered to be this generations’ classics. Bear is married to Astrid Anderson, daughter of science fiction great Poul Anderson, and they are the parents of two children, Erik and Alexandria. His recent thriller novel, Quantico, was published in 2007 and the sequel, Mariposa, followed in 2009. He has since published a new, epic science fiction novel, City at the End of Time and a generation starship novel, Hull Zero Three.
Read an Excerpt
Paul is dead. Call home.
Peter Russell, stocky and graying, stood on the sidewalk and squinted at the text message on his cell phone, barely visible in the afternoon sun on Ventura Boulevard.
He lifted his round glasses above small, amused eyes, and brought the phone closer to see the display more clearly.
Paul is dead. He flashed on his youth, when for a week he had sincerely believed that Paul was dead: Paul McCartney. I am the walrus. But he had misread the phone's blocky letters. The message was actually Phil is dead.
That shook him. He knew only one Phil. Peter had not talked with Phil Richards in a month, but he refused to believe that the message referred to his best friend of thirty-five years, the kinder, weaker, and almost certainly more talented of the Two Ps. Not the Phil with the thirty-two-foot Grand Taiga motor home, keeper of their eternal plans for the World's Longest Old Farts Cross-country Hot Dog Escapade and Tour.
Please, not that Phil.
He hesitated before hitting callback. What if it was a joke, a bit of cell phone spam?
Peter drove a vintage Porsche 356C Coupe that had once been signal red and was now roughly the shade of a dry brick. He fumbled his key and almost dropped the phone before unlocking the car door. He did not need this. He had an important appointment. Angrily, he pushed the button. The number rolled out in musical beeps. He recognized the answering voice of Carla Wyss, whom he had not heard from in years. She sounded nervous and a little guilty.
"Peter, I just dropped by the house. I took the key from your bell and let myself in. There was a note. My God, I never meant to snoop. It's from somebody named Lydia." Lydia was Phil's ex-wife. "I thought I should let you know."
Peter had shown Carla the secret of the bronze Soleri bell, hanging outside the front door, after a night of very requited passion. Now, upset, she was having a sandwich and a root beer from his refrigerator. She hoped he didn't mind.
"Mi casa es su casa," Peter said, beyond irritation. He tongued the small gap between his front teeth. "I'm listening."
Carla's voice was shaky. "All right. The note reads 'Dear Peter, Phil died. He had a heart attack or a stroke, they aren't sure which. Will let you know details.' Then it's signed very neatly." She took a breath. "Wasn't he another writer? Didn't I meet him here in the house?"
"Yeah." Peter pressed his eyes with his fingers, blocking out the glare. Lydia had been living in Burbank for a few years. She had apparently made the rounds of Phil's LA friends. Carla rattled on, saying that Lydia had used a fountain pen, a folded sheet of handmade paper, a black satin ribbon, and Scotch tape.
Lydia had never liked telephones.
Phil is dead.
Thirty-five years of kid dreams and late-night plans, sitting in the backyard in old radar-dish rattan chairs on the dry grass between the junipers. Shooting the bull about stories and writing and big ideas. Phil hanging out on movie sets and model shoots — not so selfless — but also helping Peter carry his bulky and unsold wire sculptures to the dump in the back of the old Ford pickup they had often swapped.
Only the truck, never the women, Phil had lamented.
Slight, wiry Phil with the short, mousy hair who smiled so sweetly every time he saw a naked lady. Who longed for the female sex with such clumsy devotion.
"Are you okay, Peter?" Carla asked from far away.
"Heart attack," Peter repeated, lifting the phone back to his mouth.
"Or a stroke, they aren't sure. It's a very pretty note, really. I'm so sorry."
He visualized Carla in his house, locked in her perpetual late thirties, leggy as a deer, dressed in pedal pushers and a dazzling man's white dress shirt with sleeves rolled up and tails pinned to show her smooth, flat tummy.
"Thanks, Carla. You better leave before Helen comes over," Peter said, not unkindly.
"I'll put the key back in the bell," Carla said. "And Peter, I was looking through your files. Do you have some glossies of me that I can borrow? I have a new agent, a good guy, really sharp, and he wants to put together a fresh folio. I'm up for a credit card commercial."
All of Carla's agents had been good guys, really sharp; all of them had screwed her both ways and she never learned. "I'll look," Peter said, though he doubted cheesecake would help.
"You know where to find me."
He did, and also what she smelled and felt like. With a wave of loose guilt, Peter sat on the old seat in the car's sunned interior, the door half open and one leg hanging out. The hot cracked leather warmed his balls. A cream-colored Lexus whizzed by and honked. He pulled in his leg and shut the door, then rolled down the window as far as it would go, about halfway. Sweat dripped down his neck. He had to look presentable and be in Malibu in an hour. His broad face crinkled above a close-trimmed, peppered beard.
Peter was fifty-eight years old and he couldn't afford to take ten minutes to cry for his best friend. One hand shielded his eyes from sun and traffic. "Damn it, Phil," he said.
He started the car and took the back roads to his home, a square, flat-roofed, fifties rambler in the Glendale hills. Carla was gone by the time he arrived, leaving only a waft of gardenia in the warm still air on the patio. Helen was late, or maybe not coming after all — he could never tell what her final plans might be — so he took a quick shower. He soon smelled of soap and washed skin and put on a blue-and-red Hawaiian shirt. He picked up his best briefcase, a maroon leather job, and pushed through the old French doors. The weedy jasmine creeping over the trellis had squeezed out a few flowers. Their sweetness curled up alongside Carla's gardenia.
Peter stood for a moment on the red tiles and looked up through the trellis at the bright blue sky. He pressed his elbow against a rough, sun-battered post, breath coming hard: The old anxiety he always found in tight places, in corners and shadows. When events fell outside his control or his ability to escape. A minute passed. Two minutes. Peter's gasping slowed. He sucked in a complete breath and pressed the inside of his wrist with two fingers to check his pulse. Not racing. The hitch behind his ribs untied with a few solid pushes of cupped fingers under the edge of his sternum. He had never asked a doctor why that worked, but it did.
He wiped his face with a paper towel, then scrawled a note for Helen on the smudged blackboard nailed below the Soleri bell. Reaching into the oil drum that served as an outdoor closet, mounted high on two sawhorses, he tugged out a lightweight suit coat of beige silk, the only one he had, a thrift-store purchase from six years ago. He sniffed it; not too musty, good for another end of summer, soon to turn into autumn.
Peter let the old Porsche roll back out of the garage. The engine purred and then climbed into a sweet whine after he snicked the long, wood-knobbed shift into first gear.
Last he had heard, Phil had been traveling in Northern California, trying to unblock a novel. They hadn't seen each other in months. Peter tried to think why friends wouldn't stay in touch from week to week or even day to day. Some of his brightest moments had been with Phil; Phil could light up a room when he wanted to.
Peter wiped his eye and looked at his dry knuckle. Maybe tonight. But Helen might drop off Lindsey, and if he started crying with Lindsey around, that might rip open a wound that he could not afford to even touch.
Numbness set in. He drove toward the ocean and Salammbo, the estate of Joseph Adrian Benoliel.
The sunset beyond the hills and water was gorgeous in a sullied way: lapis sky, the sun a yellow diamond hovering over the gray line of the sea, dimmed by a tan ribbon of smog. Peter Russell pushed along in second gear, between lines of palm trees and golf-green lawn spotted with eucalyptus. Flaubert House cast a long cool shadow across the drive and the golf-green approach. Crickets were starting to play their hey-baby tunes.
Salammbo covered twenty acres of prime highland Malibu real estate. She had survived fires, earthquakes, landslides, the Great Depression, the fading careers of two movie stars, and tract-home development. In more than thirty years in Los Angeles and the Valley, Peter had never encountered anything like her — two huge, quirky mansions set far apart and out of sight of each other, looking down descending hills and through valleys rubbed thick with creosote bush and sage to Carbon Beach.
Here was illusion at its finest: the fantasy that peace can be bought, that power can sustain, that time will rush by but leave the finer things untouched: eccentricity, style, and all the walls that money can buy. Life goes on, Salammbo said with sublime self-assurance, especially for the rich. But the estate's history was not so reassuring.
Salammbo was a nouveau-riche vision of heaven: many mansions "builded for the Lord." The lord in this case had died in 1946: Lordy Trenton — not a real lord but an actor in silent comedies — had risen from obscurity in the Catskills for a good twelve-year run against Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. His character — a drunken aristocrat, basically decent but prone to causing enormous trouble — had palled on audiences even before the onset of the Depression. Trenton had gotten out of acting while the getting was grand. One grand, to be precise, which is the price for which he had sold all rights to his films in 1937.
During the Depression, Lordy had invested in sound equipment for the movies and made big money. In the mid-thirties, he had built Flaubert House and then started to erect what some architectural critics at the time referred to as Jesus Wept. Trenton's friends called it the Mission. The Mission featured a huge circular entry beneath a dome decorated with Moorish tile, high vaulted ceilings, bedrooms furnished in wrought iron and dark oak, an austere refectory that could seat a hundred, and a living room that by itself occupied two thousand square feet. It consumed much of his fortune.
In the early forties, beset by visions of a Japanese invasion of California, Lordy connected Flaubert House and the Mission with a quarter-mile underground tramway, complete with bomb shelter. He lined the smoothly plastered stone-and-brick tunnel with a gallery of nineteenth-century European oils. At the same time, he became involved with a troubled young artist and sometime actress, Emily Gaumont. After their marriage in 1944, she spent her last year obsessively painting full-sized portraits of Lordy and many of their friends — as clowns.
In 1945, during a party, a fire in the tunnel killed Emily and ten visitors and destroyed the tram. Four of the dead — including Emily, so the story went — were burned beyond recognition.
A year later, alone and broken by lawsuits, Trenton died of acute alcohol poisoning.
The next owner, a department-store magnate named Greel, in his late sixties, acquired a mistress, allegedly of French Creole descent. To please her, he spent a million dollars finishing the Mission in Louisiana Gothic, mixing the two styles to jarring effect. The name Jesus Wept acquired permanence.
Greel died in 1949, a suicide.
In 1950, the estate was purchased by Frances Saint Claire, a Hitchcock blond. Blackballed by the studios, her career ruined by allegations of leftist sympathies, Saint Claire had married a savvy one-time pretty boy named Mortimer Sykes. Sykes, playing against type, wisely invested her money and endlessly doted on her. In 1955, they built the third and final mansion of Salammbo, the trendy, Bauhaus-inspired Four Cliffs. In 1957, just six months before Saint Claire's death from breast cancer, a grove of eucalyptus trees caught fire. The flames spread to two of the mansions. Four Cliffs burned to the ground. Most of Jesus Wept survived, but the refectory lay in ruins. A police investigation pointed to arson, but friends in local politics hushed up any further investigation, suggesting there was already enough tragedy at Salammbo.
In 1958, Sykes put the estate up for sale and moved to Las Vegas. A broken man and heavily in debt, he tried to borrow money from the wrong people. Two years later, hikers discovered his body in a shallow grave in the desert.
The estate lay vacant for five years. In 1963, Joseph Adrian Benoliel became Salammbo's newest master. A lifelong bachelor, Joseph had made his fortune producing beach flicks and managing a chain of real-estate franchises.
And between 1970 and 1983, he had secretly financed four of Peter's titillation movies; lots of nudity but no actual sex.
Peter parked the car, got out, and pulled his coat down over a slight paunch. Broad-shouldered, he carried the extra weight well enough, but he was starting to look more like an aging bodyguard than an artist. No matter. The Benoliels didn't care.
Peter lifted and dropped the bronze fist on the striker plate mounted on the huge oak door. A young man with short black hair, dressed in an oversized blue sweater and beige pants, opened the door, looked him up and down, then held out something as if making a donation to the poor. Peter had never met him before.
"Here, Mr. Benoliel doesn't seem to want it," the young man said in a clipped tone of British disappointment. "They're free. Who are you?" He pressed a black plastic ovoid into Peter's hand and stood back to let him in.
"That's Peter," Joseph said. "Leave him alone." He walked into the entryway with a persistent poke of his rubber-tipped cane, moving fast for a man with a limp. "I hate the goddamned things." He did not sound angry. In fact, he smiled in high good humor at Peter. In his early seventies, with a football player's body gone to fat and the fat carefully pared away by diet, the flesh of Joseph's arms hung loose below the short sleeves of his yellow golf shirt. Bandy legs weakened by diabetes stuck out below baggy black shorts. His bristling butch-cut hair had long since turned white. "Hate them when they beep in restaurants. People driving and yakking. Always have to be connected, like they'd vanish if they stopped talking. There's too much talk in the world already." He waved his hand in a gesture between permission and irritated dismissal. "If you take the damned thing, turn it off while you're here."
"They don't turn off," the young man explained to Peter, drawing closer. His wide blue eyes assessed Peter's character and the size of his wallet. "You can turn the ringer down, however."
Peter smiled as if at a half-heard joke. "What is it?" he asked.
"Free talk," Joseph said. "But it doesn't work. Where's Mishie?"
"She told me to get the door," the young man said.
"Well, hell, Peter has a key. Mishie!"
The young man regarded Peter with newfound but uncertain respect.
Mishie — Michelle — walked out of the hall leading back to the drawing room. "I'm here." She smiled at Peter and hooked her arm around Joseph's. "Time for his lordship's monkey nut shots," she announced with thespian cheer. "Come along, dear."
Joseph stared gloomily at the small elevator to the left of the long flight of stairs, as if doom awaited him there. "Don't ever leave me alone with her, Peter," he said.
"You two fine young bucks wait in the drawing room," Michelle instructed primly. "We'll be down in a whiffle."
"I'm down now," Joseph said. "If there's anything I hate, it's monkey nuts." He patted Peter's arm in passing.
"Nice couple," the young man said as they sat in an alcove looking over the west lawn. The wistful last of the day faded far out over the cliffs and the ocean. "They were joking, weren't they?"
"I think so," Peter said. "I'm Peter Russell."
They stretched out of their chairs and shook hands. Chairs throughout Flaubert House were always set shouting distance apart from one another.
"Scouting for an investment?" Peter asked.
"An invest or," Weinstein corrected. "One million dollars, minimum. A pittance to finance a revolution."
Weinstein cringed. "Let's please avoid that word."
Peter raised the plastic ovoid to eye level and twisted it until he found a seam, then tried to pry it open with a thumbnail. It wouldn't budge. "If it's not a phone, what is it?"
"We call it Trans," Weinstein said. "T-R-A-N-S. Plural, also Trans. Invest a little, and you get one to use. Invest a lot, and you get more to hand out to friends. Very chic, extraordinarily high tech, nothing like them on the market. Feel that weight? Quality."
Excerpted from "Dead Lines"
Copyright © 2004 Greg Bear.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Not a bad book, but not a particularly brilliant one either. A middle-aged former softcore porn director gets roped into helping to market a new wireless phone technology. About the same time, he starts seeing ghosts, while pondering the deaths of his daughter and his best friend, and helping other friends deal with their own mortality. The story is engaging, but takes a long time to lead up to the climax that is already described on the back cover. Decent airplane reading, but nothing profound. The "science" is just fantasy, not anything even remotely based on reality.
average for this author, but kept my attention
Like an M Night Shyamalan movie, it starts out slow and interesting and very slowly builds. That's where it diverges, as it takes a long time for it to get to the part where it's supposed to be scary... but never quite makes it. The climax takes on more of a murder mystery feel, which wasn't what I was looking for. Still, I always enjoy Bear's writing style and was a welcome change my my usual Sci-Fi fare.
2/5. More of a later midlife regret-filled memoir than anything else. There's little in the way of arc or character development. It's better than a doorstop, but only just.
I received a free electronic copy of this novel from Netgalley, Greg Bear, and Open Road Integrated Media in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for sharing your hard work with me. This book was originally published by Ballantine Books in 2004. I am always tickled when I run across a Greg Bear novel - and am thrilled to see them being re-issued. Thank you, Open Road Integrated Media, for keeping the oldie's but goodies accessible. This is not a Bear tale that I had run across before. I can tell you that it is massively scary and a good bit funny, if you can laugh at yourself successfully. We only look old on the outside, us boomer babies. Well, except for Michelle, but she had a deal going with the devil, I think. No one should look that good pushing 60. I promise you that you will look at your convenient cell phone in a much different way in about 5 hours read time, and nothing about this tale is dated.
Peter Russell¿s life turned out much different than he expected. He wanted to write books but instead made a living taking picture and making movies of naked people when the soft porn industry flat-lined. Now he is a little more than an errand boy for movie producer and real estate executive Joseph Benoliel, dependant on him for cash. A consortium is trying to get Joseph to invest in Trans, a wireless telephone that uses a broad bandwidth so that people can communicate with each other almost instantaneously. The people making the Trans are giving them away as a promotional gimmick and folks all over the world have one. The transponder that is heart of the Trans is located in the bowels of San Andrea Prison. The investors of the new means of communication didn¿t know that it interferes with the ghosts of the dead moving on. Earth is populated with ghosts and nobody knows how to get rid of them except Peter. Fans of Peter Straub and Stephen King will love this old fashioned ghost story. From the very beginning of DEAD LINES, there is a sense of foreboding and of anticipation as readers wait for events to reveal themselves. Some might think that the protagonist wasted his life but in reality he experienced life as few people can and accepts the consequences. Greg Bear has written a horror novel that has the audience keeping the lights on at night to keep the ghosts away. Harriet Klausner