In 2015 I polled various groups, asking if they had read Altered States, seen the film, both, or neither. The majority had seen the film, but ignored the book–as I had.
As a psychologist and author who tried sensory deprivation tanks, LSD, and Ketamine, As this was Chayefsky’s only novel, I was anxious to discover what more, if anything, he could have written about the new approach to consciousness research.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It mirrored the film in many ways and, as it happens, the imagery of the film helped make the (sometimes technical) reading even more involving. Chayefsky’s intensive research and attention to detail is obvious. There are many references to neuroanatomy, chemistry, and anthropology that could be sticking points for a lay reader. But the overall intensity wavered only slightly. I felt an urgency to slog through the book.
Since publishing my own foray into sci-fi/paranormal in The SHIVA Syndrome Trilogy, some of its reviews were similar: “It gets technical at points and much of it went over my head. It does, in a couple of places, explain things in more understandable terms for us laymen, but that’s only because characters ask it to be explained.”
Another reader said, “The SHIVA Syndrome Trilogy by Alan Joshua is a treat for the fans of the techno thriller as well as fans of the paranormal. My first awareness of the existence of isolation tanks was in the late 70’s or early 80’s when I saw the film “Altered States” starring William Hurt. Hurt played an academic who was experimenting with using an isolation tank. I don’t remember what his ultimate goal was but I don’t think he achieved it since he experienced a kind of reverse evolution in which he devolved into an apelike revenant creature.
However, that result was relatively benign compared with the SHIVA Project in Joshua’s first novel of the SHIVA Trilogy. SHIVA is a government sponsored project using an isolation tank. But the subject to be immersed in the tank is required to be a person of paranormal psychic and psychokinetic abilities. Apparently the tank and the sensory deprivation are supposed to magnify the paranormal abilities of the subject and using certain chemicals and virtual reality tools enable the subject to manipulate matter using the mind.
The novel opens with the Russians doing the experiment with the tank and their psychic subject. But due to the subject’s mental and emotional instability the experiment backfires, and he causes an explosion make that an implosion which is worse than a plutonium bomb. It creates a black hole which draws in and decimates the entire city of Podol’sk and all of its inhabitants leaving a massive crater where the city once stood.”
The impact of the book was summed up by the Portland Book Review (4.5 stars)
“What a fascinating book!..The SHIVA Syndrome Trilogy is a sci-fi thriller, a mystery that unfolds on a background of myths and religions, biotechnology, military power, politics, and paranormal human abilities…The author’s profound knowledge of this field is shown in the extraordinary development of the story. The descriptions of events and characters are very vivid and engaging. Having the right amount of adventure and romance this crisscrossing genre tale isn’t just a good read, but may also look great on a big screen.”
My goal was to take Chayefsky’s foundation and add to it what we have since learned in parapsychology, consciousness research, and physics. According to editorial and lay readers, it was successful.