Much of the power of Koji Suzuki's original novel Ring lay in the fact that it was a traditional ghost story brought indelibly into modern times; the urban legend of a haunted videotape that brought death to viewers within seven days became the basis for striking horror films in Japan, Korea, and America, with all the adaptations more or less following Suzuki's premise and evoking Ring's creepy sense of unstoppable lurking horror. But while the Japanese and American movie sequels took the story in new and more supernatural directions, Suzuki himself wrote two print sequels that brought his ghost story into the realm of science rather than superstition. The trilogy he begun with Ring continued with Spiral; it concludes with Loop, which strangely chooses to render virtually all his well-honed scares and chills completely moot.
Loop begins with 10-year-old Kaoru, a Japanese boy whose offbeat, irregular home life mostly revolves around his father Hideyuki, a demanding scientific hotshot prone to getting the whole family up to entertain him when he bounces in after midnight. Father and son share a special bond, as Hideyuki encourages Kaoru's scientific theorizing and treats him as an adult and a colleague. So seven years later, as Hideyuki is dying of a new and terrifyingly virulent form of cancer, Kaoru takes his degeneration particularly hard. And when Kaoru falls in love with a woman whose child is succumbing to the same cancer epidemic, he winds up with crucial deadlines on behalf of two people he cares for. Fortunately, he has a theory that the disease's cause and cure might be found within Hideyuki's former secret project, known as the Loop.
Loop reads much like a Michael Crichton novel, all stiff dialogue interspersed with lengthy informational downloads on science, medicine, and culture; the writing is flat and simple, and tends to overexplain and overillustrate. But that's less of a problem than the plodding, straight-line story, which, like Spiral, lowers the story's tension level by deconstructing Suzuki's initial plotline, dismantling its supernatural aspects, and removing much of its personal element. Midway through Loop, Kaoru gains access to a virtual-reality summary of the events of Ring and Spiral; watching events unfold, he compares their story to "a movie—a well-made one, to be sure, but based on some pretty juvenile premises." Fair enough; Suzuki's initial ooga-booga demon-child story was hardly in the realm of deathless literature. But it was visceral and memorable, which is more than can be said for his detached science-tech follow-ups. Reading them is a bit too much like having a joke explained at dry, scholarly length.