Ok, so, The Sandman. Ground breaking comic series from the early days of DC’s innovative Vertigo line. One of the many comics of the era...more3 – 3.5 stars
Ok, so, The Sandman. Ground breaking comic series from the early days of DC’s innovative Vertigo line. One of the many comics of the era that was trying to do new (or at least different) things with the medium and even went so far as to not only NOT be primarily a superhero book, but one that had elements that hearkened back to the old days of anthology comics in addition to telling the serialized life story of the ‘hero’. I know I’m in the minority here, and I will admit that my opinion is based on one bad experience and a subsequent lack of desire to make further attempts, but to me The Sandman series of comics represents the apex of Neil Gaiman’s writing. As far as I can see it was in The Sandman that Gaiman not only made his name in the industry (a name that would ultimately pave his way out of comics and into not only the world of prose, but also as something of a genre celebrity), but it’s also where he developed the style, preoccupations, and motifs that would come to characterize, in one form or another, all of his later works.
“Preludes and Nocturnes” is the first storyline of the comic, taking up the first eight issues of the monthly run. In it we have Gaiman starting with the name of a golden age superhero and creating a new character based on its mythological antecedents. Taking a cue from Zelazny’s Amber chronicles Gaiman then built up a backstory for Morpheus, the godlike king of dreams, and made him part of a fractious and dysfunctional family known as ‘the Endless’…though most of that is (with one major exception) only alluded to in hints and asides in the first story arc and will be developed more fully later in the series, ultimately becoming the lynchpin of the tale of this version of the Sandman. What Gaiman does centre on in this arc are the horror anthology roots of his story as well as the set-up for Morpheus’ quest to regain his lost place and powers. It appears that some naughty occultists of the early 20th century (think Aleister Crowley and his Golden Dawn cronies) want to capture Death and rule the world. Instead they end up trapping her younger brother Dream, with disastrous results for many people who are no longer able to sleep, dream, or hope. Unable to extort power or promises from their silent victim they instead steal from him the artifacts he carried and leave him imprisoned both physically and spiritually on the mortal plane. Of course, things can’t remain thus and through the passage of time and loosening of vigilance Morpheus is finally able to escape and wreak vengeance on the mortals that dared imprison him. The next step is a standard quest narrative as the Sandman, weakened by years of imprisonment and the loss of his artifacts (into which he had poured much of his being and power…shades of Tolkien there), travels from the mortal plane to the realm of hell in an attempt to regain his tools and place in the cosmos. Standing in his way are both the triumvirate that rules hell and its legions of demons and the demented mind of a minor supervillain whose tinkering with the vast powers of Dream could end not only one of the Endless, but the world as we know it. We also get a coda to Morpheus’ quest in which we meet his older sister Death (an ironically upbeat reaper and perennial fan-favourite for the duration of the series who spawned a few spin-offs of her own) and get a glimpse into the role this strange family plays in the cosmos.
I like what Gaiman has done here, inserting many easter eggs and call outs to various elements of the DC universe (and the more esoteric aspects of our own), but still bringing to it his own point of view and building upon it his own mythology. Whether it’s a sly call-out to the origins of Morpheus’ golden age hero namesake, a visit to the JLI embassy to intrude upon the lives and dreams of two of its members, or the insertion of a pair of characters from an old horror anthology comic as members of Morpheus' retinue in the now shattered land of dreams, Gaiman has done his homework and incorporated it into some admirable worldbuilding. I definitely noticed that this first arc of The Sandman was fairly heavy in its use of horror elements with many gruesome deaths and a lot of macabre imagery (as opposed to the strong fantasy flavour that came to dominate the later story arcs). Knowing where the story is heading also made this read an interesting one, as references to characters and events that will come to loom large in the story of Morpheus are things that I certainly missed my first time around, though they now give an added depth and reality to what Gaiman has penned. Why only 3 - 3.5 stars? Probably because the more gruesome aspects of the story didn’t appeal to me as much and I know things are going to get even better. This was a good start, but Morpheus has a long, and interesting, road ahead of him. Also, even this early it’s obvious that Morpheus is a bit of a prig so I don’t always sympathize with him as the protagonist. He’s ultimately much more interesting as a vehicle for the stories of others than as the ‘hero’ of his own. Of course, given his role in the multiverse that is altogether appropriate.(less)
Ok, first of all what the hell is up with that cover? In what world is Moses Todd supposed to look like a refugee from a paranormal romance s...more3.5 stars
Ok, first of all what the hell is up with that cover? In what world is Moses Todd supposed to look like a refugee from a paranormal romance series airing on the CW? Not in mine, that’s for sure.
Alright, now that that’s off my chest we can continue. What we have here is the sequel/prequel to Bell’s initial foray into the zombie apocalypse The Reapers Are the Angels. This time around we follow former secondary characters Moses Todd and his brother in their rambles across a ravaged America prior to their meeting with Temple from the first book. As I implied in my review of Reapers Moses was really more of an antagonist to Temple than a villain, so seeing him fleshed out further here didn’t come across as either: a) a betrayal of the character’s nature or b) a picture of a completely unsympathetic anti-hero. Bell was even able to make Moses’ brother Abraham, not much more than a vile snake in the first book, at least have explanations for his character and behaviour that made sense and turned him into something more approximating a human being. In addition to these two characters, and a varied assortment of post-apocalyptic survivor misfits in supporting roles, we have the new character of ‘The Vestal’ something of a throw-back to Temple in that she is a strong female able to take care of herself, though different in that she is no warrior, but rather one who deploys the more traditional feminine charms in her defense along with a unique condition that makes her survival in zombie-world easier than it is for most.
Once again we have a road-trip/quest (I wonder whether other types of story are possible/interesting in the zombie apocalypse context?) with the delivery of a person somewhere as the end goal. This time it is up to the brothers Todd to deliver the Vestal to an enclave of civilization in Colorado in order for the powers that be to find out what makes her tick. Once again we have a detailed meditation on the character of the shattered landscape of America with a view to the kind of individuals that are able to thrive, or at least endure, as survivors in a blighted world. It’s interesting to see brought into even sharper focus that fact that the walking dead aren't even the biggest problem for this world. They are almost laughable in the ease with which they can be avoided (unless you're caught off-guard or cornered by sheer numbers), and as usual it is the humans who survive from whom there is the most to fear. Bell has an interesting way, yet again, of ruminating on the fact that the zombies aren’t really evil, perhaps they aren’t even an unholy plague, they’re just another set of obstacles in life that one either contends with or is consumed by (literally in this case). Once again we have the lilting Southern Gothic voice that tinges the text with biblical and oratorical significance and that is very pleasant to read.
There’s a lot of “once agains” there, and they’re not completely meant to be derogatory. The story is a good one and I enjoy Bell’s writing enough that I don’t mind “more of the same” in this world. I’m not sure if Moses is as successful a central character as Temple was though, and I think I preferred his much more ambiguous characterization in the first novel. It’s interesting to once again see someone who actually fits in better in this wasted world than he ever did before the fall, though unlike Temple he was not born into the apocalypse and thus can have moments of regret for what has been lost, at least on the personal if not the societal level. The search for purpose is a theme that looms large in both books, though even the attaining of purpose isn’t always enough to keep one sane. In Moses we see a man driven by two things: the need to protect his corrupt brother from the lawful retribution of the world at large, and the need to follow a personal code to the exclusion of all else, even good sense or happiness. Without the code Moses is just a drifter prey to illusions brought on by emotion and desire, though he doesn’t seem to appreciate that he may have built his purpose on illusions of his own.
All in all I liked the tale and if you’re a fan of the zombie apocalypse you should like this one. Bell mixes some philosophical musings and lyrical prose in with his blood-spattered gore and harsh violence so there’s more than just an edge of your seat adventure to be gotten from the book. I don’t think it’s quite as successful as the first volume, though I’m not quite sure why. Still, a truly enjoyable read when all is said and done.(less)
_The Reapers are the Angels_ is my first foray into the très au courant genre of zombie apo...more3.5 – 4 stars
Well, I gotta say I didn't expect that ending.
_The Reapers are the Angels_ is my first foray into the très au courant genre of zombie apocalypse. It was a fortunate choice and I can only hope I enjoy other forays into the genre as much. One thing I can say is that it’s definitely a real page-turner . The story of Temple, the young bad-ass action-grrl born into a world after the rise of the undead, is compelling and engrossing and has definitely got velocity. Temple herself is interesting, a strangely positive girl despite the darkness of her past and the violence of both her world and her deeper character. She's a strange oxymoron, an optimist who seethes under the surface with supressed rage. I suppose she could be seen as yet another product of the Buffy/Katniss/whatever-action-grrl-of-the-moment template, but I thought she generally came across as being much more real than that stereotype would imply. She may be a warrior princess of sorts, but Temple has a certain naïve charm that sets her apart and she rarely goes looking for trouble, though of course it often finds her. Temple is also interesting in that she was born into the world of the apocalypse, so the status quo doesn’t disturb her in the same way as it does the survivors from the old time. She doesn’t see the world as a punishment and a curse, but rather as a gift. She sees the hand of God in everything and even the fact of the shambling dead is a miracle when you look at it from the right angle. It’s an interesting perspective however off-the-wall it might seem.
The other major element of the novel is its prose. The southern twang that nearly drips off the page is a joy to read and makes the novel seem, on the one hand, very literary. Yet there was another element to it that kept breaking through in the back of my mind and which occasionally broke the spell of the prose itself: this is also a novel that very much reads as though it were written with the cinematic version strongly in mind. At times it is almost like a movie treatment for the soon-to-be-produced vehicle starring the next Jennifer Lawrence as Temple (maybe Chloe Moretz? She’s young enough and certainly her stint as Hitgirl in ‘Kickass’ gives her some of the required experience in extreme violence). This isn’t exactly a bad thing, I guess, and the author is welcome to any income he can derive from his work, but it was a little distracting sometimes to think “ah yes, I can just see the dollar signs in the author’s eyes as he wrote this scene just for the big screen.” Unfair of me maybe, I don’t know, but it was a feeling I definitely got from time to time while reading. That said, this is still a great novel to read and it’s simply filled with the poetic palaver of the South so mellifluous to Northern ears.
Aside from being both a quest road-trip and the story of a young girl (who’s really more of an adult in all but the most literal temporal sense) coping with her past as she faces her future it is also, as others have pointed out, definitely a story about the American landscape. It’s a blasted and decayed landscape, but one where the character of its past still shines through in what remains. Ironically it seems to be those who are most willing to let go of this geographical memory that are most likely to succeed in this new world as opposed to the hopeless dreamers trying to claw their way back to the world of civilization and who pretend that their little enclaves of the old world are anything other than a fantasy.
I’ll conclude by saying that Alden Bell also did a great job of building up his characters and even those who had little more than a walk-on were generally interesting and unique. A shout-out has to go to Moses Todd one of the better villains (or perhaps I really ought to call him an antagonist) I’ve come across in awhile. He’s nearly as compelling as Temple and seeing the two of them together was nearly always a treat. I’m surprised to see this listed as book one in a series, but I’m willing to go along with Bell in his further forays across the twisted landscape of undead America.
This volume contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or even...moreThis volume contains eight tasty little nuggets of supernatural horror that I found very satisfying. In each of them the story is told second or even third hand by a genial narrator whose acquaintances, who are themselves of a decidedly scholarly bent, have been the victims of supernatural intrusion into our world. Often the stories revolve around an ancient artifact able to invoke the otherworldly that is discovered by these particularly luckless individuals (though they often feel themselves lucky indeed when they first make their discoveries). The tales are all good, but my favourites were “Canon Alberic's Scrap-book”, “Lost Hearts”, “”The Mezzotint”, and “Count Magnus”. I found myself thinking of both Lovecraft (in James’ use of made-up manuscripts and a reliance on protagonists of a learned bent whose curiosity proves to be their bane) and Clark Ashton-Smith (though with prose that was a little less flowery) though I think James is a much better stylist than the former and a little less given to the more extreme flights of fancy of the latter.
“Canon Alberic's Scrap-book” – An antiquary discovers a scrap-book of ancient manuscripts compiled by the titular Canon Alberic in the 17th century that is in the keeping of the sacristan of a church in France that he is studying. One picture, “The dispute of Solomon with a demon of the night”, proves to be particularly compelling…and why is the sacristan so eager to get rid of a book so obviously of great value? Great evocation of mood and the way in which the supernatural creature manifests itself was suitably creepy.
"Lost Hearts" – A rather moving tale of revenge from beyond the grave and the perils of devoting oneself to the arcane teachings of the ancients in the hopes of gaining eternal life. I knew where this one was going pretty much after the first paragraph, but I heartily enjoyed the ride.
"The Mezzotint" – I really liked the interesting way in which the artifact in question here, the mezzotint of the title, manifested the supernatural and the foreboding sense of a quiet yet unstoppable horror that was the result.
"The Ash-tree" – A nobleman and his descendants find that being the star witness in a witch trial probably isn’t a good idea. Good creepy/gross factor with the creatures invoked for vengeance.
"Number 13" – What happens when you book a room in an inn that used to belong to a man accused of having been an alchemist and magician several generations ago? Nothing good, especially if you rent the room right next to the one in which he mysteriously died. Space and time have a funny way of bending and twisting when the undead get involved.
"Count Magnus" – The titular Count reminded me a bit of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghost Busters 2: he was a mean-spirited son of a bitch who liked to torture people in his spare time and go on fun little trips with names like “the Black Pilgrimage”. Perhaps it’s wisest if you’re a travel writer getting good copy from his native village to leave the crypt where he’s entombed alone. Just sayin’.
"'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" – Ah skeptics…they always learn their lesson in the end, don’t they? Well, they do in these kind of stories anyway. If you’re kind of a priggish and pedantic professor going on a holiday to sharpen up your golf game (golf is a re-occurring motif in these stories and I don’t think James was a fan) don’t promise to do some investigating of the local Templar preceptory for a colleague, and if you do for God’s sake don’t muck around with anything you find there. If you’re lucky you’ll run into an old military type who doesn’t trust papists.
"The Treasure of Abbot Thomas" – When the Abbot of a 16th century monastery basically dares you, though the enciphered clues he left behind in some striking stained glass windows, to uncover his hidden treasure don’t do it. Trust me on this.
I like the way in which James gives us enough of a glimpse at the ghosts and undead horrors he unleashes in his stories to avoid Lovecraft’s almost laughable (to me at least) approach of “oh, it was so horrible I can’t even begin to describe it, just trust me it was really, really, really, mind-crushingly horrible!” and yet was sufficiently vague to leave enough of the horror to the imagination of the reader. The charming, almost homely, voice of the narrator was also a nice contrast to the ultimate invocation of otherworldly menace in the tales. All in all a really solid collection of old-school ghost stories that may not leave you cringing in terror, but you may end up looking over your shoulder from time to time. And you’ll definitely take greater care the next time that weird old manuscript seems to fortuitously land in your lap.
The Werewolf of Paris is an interesting book. Part horror story and part historical fiction, it follows the travails of the titular werewolf of Paris...moreThe Werewolf of Paris is an interesting book. Part horror story and part historical fiction, it follows the travails of the titular werewolf of Paris from his birth to his death, as well as his place in the blood-drenched moment of history known as the Franco-Prussian War that was followed by the ill-fated Paris Commune. Interestingly the werewolf in question, Bertrand Caillet, is actually something of a secondary character in his own tale, as it is told from the perspective of his adoptive father Aymar Galliez. We never see the wolf itself in action, and despite some tantalizing clues built upon separate pieces of evidence, the actual lycanthropy of Bertrand could as easily be interpreted as a purely psychological affliction as opposed to a supernatural one. Add to that the fact that we are being told this tale third-hand (Endore’s conceit being that his story is being constructed from the reports and reminiscences of Galliez who had to put the pieces together mostly second-hand, interspersed with Endore’s own researches into the documents of the period) and the truth or fiction of the lyncanthropy in question becomes even greater. Sometimes this conceit does not always benefit Endore’s story, for there are many scenes and events that occur within the text that would have been clearly outside of the knowledge of Galliez or any documentary sources of the day…still that is a quibble for something that really is a novel and quite an enjoyable one at that.
Endore starts his ‘documentary’ with a tale taken from the annals of history that purports to enlighten us as to the ultimate origins of our werewolf. It is a sordid tale of feuding nobility wherein the Pitamonts and Pitavals, after having waged generations of warfare against each other, finally end their feud in mutual impoverishment and one of the last of the Pitamonts is held captive for years by the last of the Pitavals. His imprisonment is an inhuman one, and he is left to suffer in a literal hole in the ground, fed nothing save raw meat. This apparently triggers his transformation into the wolf-man of legend. Our tale truly begins, however, when Josephine, a young peasant girl newly arrived in Paris, is raped by a priest, a descendant of the last of the Pitamonts, and bears Bertrand, a child destined to bring forth the family curse.
We follow Bertrand in his young life, at first so full of promise and then slowly brought to near ruin by his ever-increasing taste for blood. Strange things begin to happen in Bertrand’s village: animals go missing or turn up dead, recent corpses are found exhumed and partially eaten. What could be happening? Slowly Bertrand’s “uncle” Aymar (the nephew of the woman who had taken in Josephine and the man who ends up becoming responsible for both mother and child) begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together and see that everything leads back to his nephew. At first he tries to slake the thirst of the monster inside Bertrand by feeding the boy raw meat and keeping him confined to the house. This only has limited efficacy and soon more drastic measures need to be taken. Ultimately the boy is able to escape his well-meant prison and, starving to appease his lusts, goes on a spree of murder and terror that takes him to Paris. Here, amidst the confusion of the end of the Franco-Prussian war and the rise of the Commune Bertrand is able to satisfy most of his hungers free from persecution or discovery. But his Uncle Aymar is spurred on by regret and remorse. He feels responsible for the release of this beast upon the world, a beast he is convinced is a supernatural terror, and decides to hunt him down. The rest of the tale details his attempts to find Bertrand and his slowly dawning discovery amidst the chaos and death that seems to permanently reside in Paris that perhaps mankind itself is the true monster. Side by side with this runs the parallel story of Bertrand and his fortuitous discovery of a lover not only able, but willing to supply him with a conduit for the slaking of his varied lusts…it is an interesting picture of depravity, lust and mutual co-dependence. Of course things come to a head and the piper must be paid.
Endore’s overarching purpose is, I think, not really to tell a werewolf story, but a desire to expose the bloodthirsty nature of mankind, for which the werewolf of the title becomes little more than a symbol, or even a contrast to this thesis, since one lone werewolf, no matter how savage, can never hope to decimate the lives of which plain old human conflict is capable. For, as even Aymar the unstinting hunter of the wolf must admit, if the hands of “normal” men are able to commit and rationalize the cold-blooded killing of 20,000 commoners as part of the reaction against the Commune (not to mention those killed by the Commune itself in its heyday, or the casualties of the Franco-Prussian war before it) then “What was a werewolf who had killed a couple of prostitutes, who had dug up a few corpses…?” Endore, and by extension Aymar, even postulates that the very existence of the werewolf may have been nothing more than the sickness of the time manifesting itself physically…though it is left open-ended in a chicken-and-egg way whether it is the madness of the time that allowed the wolf to be born, or whether it was the existence of the wolf that could infect mankind with its madness and bloodlust.
Overall this was a good tale, though I would say it came across much more as historical fiction for me than as pure horror (which in my opinion is fine). It has also been claimed that this is the “Dracula for Werewolves” and I’m not sure if I agree. Certainly it shares similarities with Dracula in its documentary format and is a well-written, and even seminal, version of the werewolf myth, but I am not widely enough read in werewolf stories to say whether or not it is the best of them. Also, the ambiguity of the actual ‘reality’ of Bertrand’s lyncanthropy and his relatively secondary role as a character in the story makes me think that while this is a good tale well worth reading, it may not be the ultimate exemplar of werewolf fiction. (less)
The Drawing of the Three is the second book of Stephen King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower. So far it hasn’t been bad, but I have to admit that I’m not...moreThe Drawing of the Three is the second book of Stephen King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower. So far it hasn’t been bad, but I have to admit that I’m not fully a believer yet. It’s a good story, taking up where we left off in The Gunslinger with Roland on the beach after having confronted the Man in Black and pondering his next move. After being attacked and wounded by a lobstrosity (wtf?! couldn’t King come up with something better? I mean it kind of makes Roland look like a dweeb that he was overcome by one of these things) Roland wanders the beach in a daze, gradually getting sicker and weaker and wondering how he will continue his quest. Three doorways in the sand present themselves to him one after the other and upon entering each he is taken into the lives of those who will become his new ka-tet (think band of not-so-merry co-adventurers).
Each of these potential heroes is not exactly keen at the idea of following our taciturn gunslinger into another dimension in the name of some ill-defined quest, but luckily (for him) Roland can be persuasive. The first one we meet is Eddie Dean, a heroin addict in 1987 New York City (denoted ‘the Prisoner’ in the man in Black’s tarot reading) who has some complications with a smuggling gig on the very near horizon. Add to that an encounter with Roland and Eddie’s not in for a very fun day all things considered. The second ‘hero’ is Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker (it makes sense once you get to know her), called ‘The Lady of Shadows’ by the tarot. She is an African-American civil rights activist in 1964 New York city with a few personal (and personality) problems, not the least of which is the fact that she’s been in a wheelchair since an ‘accident’ with the subway years before. The final doorway in the sand leads to a confrontation with the enigmatic Jack Mort and a full circle journey for one of our heroes that will either save and meld this new ka-tet into a real force, or destroy it before it begins.
I liked, but didn’t love this book. King’s characters are interesting, but I am much more interested in the larger story, of which we still have received almost no indication yet, as opposed to the personal tales of the new ka-tet. I guess I was hoping for more genre-busting fantasy and a little less contemporary dark fiction. Also, the story was often a long plod, though in some ways this is a compliment to King since it reflects the reality he was trying to express as Roland, Eddie, and Odetta/Detta trudge across the seemingly endless Mid-World (apparently this is not yet Mid-World) beach…a long, slow, plodding journey through illness, fear and weakness marching towards a goal neither of them is exactly certain of.
My real interest in this series was initially prompted by the character of the Gunslinger Roland himself and thus I am (contrary to what appears to be most readers experiences) at this point looking forward more to volume 4, which covers his backstory and the members of his original ka-tet, than I am to volume 3. For the time being though I’ll stay along for the ride and hope that more answers are forthcoming. (less)
Ok, so it’s one of the big two of the great classic monster stories: Dracula and Frankenstein…sort of a literary Beatles and the Rolling Ston...more3.5 stars
Ok, so it’s one of the big two of the great classic monster stories: Dracula and Frankenstein…sort of a literary Beatles and the Rolling Stones scenario. Which do you think is better? Your choice may say a lot about you. Considered a classic both in the realms of science fiction and horror and even granted the distinction to be part of the literary cannon, the pedigree of Mary Shelley’s _Frankenstein_ is pretty much impeccable. This was actually my second attempt at reading the book, however, the first being stymied some years ago by the morose, and seemingly endless, philosophizing of the monster. Somehow this didn’t bother me this time around, and I was able to enjoy Shelley’s nightmare tale and appreciate its classic status. To me the book reads almost like a primer in the Romantic ethos, not surprising considering its author who was a member of one of the greatest literary circles of the Romantic movement. From the emblematic poetry quoted throughout and the many, many (many) paens to the revelatory aspects of wild and majestic Nature to the existential philosophizing central to all of the characters and the combination of hopefulness with despair, this book has the Romantic movement tattooed on its soul.
Regardless of the fact that many see this as the birthing point of science fiction due to young Frankenstein’s pseudo-scientific attempts to create life, I think that these sfnal elements hold a distant second place to the more poetic and philosophical ones in the story. To me it isn’t the cautionary tale of the dangers of scientific progress that is paramount, but rather that of the family. I think _Frankenstein_ is ultimately more concerned with parenthood and its responsibilities, and an examination of what happens when love and its attendant obligations are absent, than it is with the dangers of the advancement of scientific knowledge. Victor is thus not so much at fault because he attempted to emulate God in the creation of life, but because he did not emulate Him in his care for his creation. (Though I think Shelley is herself ambiguous about whether God is any better…there seems to be an implicit judgement in some places that we in some sense share in the Creature’s abandonment.) Victor does not attempt to teach his creature or even do so much as stay in its vicinity after it has been awakened from death, instead abandoning it to the vicissitudes of the world merely because of its horrific appearance. Victor’s fault is compounded by the fact that his own family life was one of bliss with the full support and love of his parents, a fact that Shelley makes sure to underline as Victor tells the tale of his life. Even after his initial rejection by his creator and only link to humanity, the Creature attempts to live as best it can, looking for companionship and love until, driven by constant rejection due only to its frightful features, it chooses a path of vengeance and hate.
Which of the protagonists is the romantic hero of this tale? Is it Victor, who is certainly mad, bad and dangerous to know (though in a somewhat different vein from Byron)? Or is it the Creature who seems destined to most evoke the reader’s pity and displays all of the pathos of the unjustly suffering tragic figure, for all of Victor’s whining about his own predicament? Victor is indeed somewhat laughable in his sentiments (though I imagine this was not Shelley’s intent). There are only so many times that we can hear his inner monologues about how he is suffering more than any of those around him due to the inner torments of conscience, while at the same time he sits safely watching a figure like the poor servant girl Justine who stands alone in the dock awaiting death for a crime she did not commit, before we roll our eyes in frustration. Sure Victor, poor you. The torments of the soul are surely a fate worse than an ignominious death. Victor’s extreme passivity is also somewhat annoying. I’m still not sure why he prefers to sit and moan over the trials that assail him instead of taking matters into his own hands. If he truly believed the creature was such a blight on creation, and one whose soul was irredeemable, then why didn’t he just wait for one of the Creature’s inevitable visits with a gun instead of nothing more than impotent rage and mad ravings? The novel would have been over much sooner and in much less dramatic a fashion, but it strained my credulity a bit that such a ‘genius’ didn’t have this simple foresight. One other moment in the story that stetched my disbelief was the manner in which the Creature learned to read and speak. Let’s just say that it involved an incredibly convenient series of coincidence and leave it at that.
These issues aside, I did quite enjoy the novel. It was certainly chock full of ideas and had some luscious prose. Both were often in a somewhat overheated vein, but, given its place square in the midst of the Romantic genre I could expect no less of it. In addition to the critiques of parental abandonment Shelley also inserts several criticisms of the burden we carry as a result of our self-awareness. Tellingly, both Frankenstein and the Creature bemoan their sensibilities in an almost identical fashion and pine for the state of brute beasts, wishing that they had never “…known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst and heat”. Intellect and feeling are an affliction that the happy beasts of the field need not suffer. Of course it is these very feelings that allow mankind to be both poet and scientist; to appreciate the beauty and wonder of Nature which the book so ardently admires; and to bring about the goodness of humanity as much as its evil, so these critiques are not, I think, without a rejoinder even in the novel itself.
All in all this was a great read; an exemplum of the horror genre still in its infancy…but I still like _Dracula_ better. (less)
3 - 3.5 stars. This was an interesting read. I'm not generally a huge fan of Stephen King, but this genre mishmash of western, horror, and fantasy sou...more3 - 3.5 stars. This was an interesting read. I'm not generally a huge fan of Stephen King, but this genre mishmash of western, horror, and fantasy sounded unique enough to check out. I like the way King blended his sources and the enigmatic figure of Roland the Gunslinger, last of his kind, is someone I want to learn more about. We are given just enough details about his pseudo-Arthurian background to keep us wondering and to make him seem more than just a taciturn cowboy stereotype, though there are times when he is in danger of falling into that.
The bleak world across which Roland pursues his quarry, the sorcerous Man in Black, combines the almost archetypal elements of the stark primary world of a multiverse with enough details and real human figures to make it rise a step above the merely representative. One wonders how these lonely individuals Roland comes across came into this world, for it doesn't seem to be one for which humanity was made, and I was left reminded of the enigmatic Island of 'Lost'...hopefully King is able to pull together the disparate strands and mysteries of his story in a more coherent way than the writers of that series were. I'm somewhat dubious of this, though, given the varied rumours I've heard about the Dark Tower series as a whole. It seems that you either love it uncritically, or find yourself disappointed with the final resolution. I guess we'll see where I find myself six more books from now.
For the time being I enjoyed it, but wasn't yet blown away.(less)
Wow. This was a tough one. It was a very good hard sf book that I don't think I'll be coming back to anytime soon. As others have said: "abandon all h...moreWow. This was a tough one. It was a very good hard sf book that I don't think I'll be coming back to anytime soon. As others have said: "abandon all hope ye who enter here." A well written, excruciating exploration of the human "problem" where it turns out that it really is a problem. How do you take a book whose central premise seems to be that the development of self-awareness in human evolution was a wrong turn that wasn't meant to happen at all? That it was in fact contrary to the entire development of intelligence throughout the rest of the universe that only occurred due to a fluke in the evolution of a competing species? Talk about being alone in an uncaring reality. Watts manages to take Lovecraft's primary hobby horse and make it work in a way that is truly frightening in its utter nihilism. This isn't a scary universe because Watts tells us so (as it would have been had Lovecraft wrote the tale), it's scary because he shows us so.
Our primary filter for information is Siri Keeton, a man with literally only half a brain. Due to a childhood trauma he was essentially lobotomized and given computer processors to make up for what was removed. Siri obviously lost a lot during the process, but "gained" the ability to be the ultimate "Chinese Room" for humanity...for all that was worth. His whole life he has been trying to understand even 'baseline' humans and his facility with doing so, with looking at the human enigma on the surface and from the outside, and parsing it correctly has led him to become a professional conduit between these baseline humans and the posthuman entities they have created and made to work for them. He is a uniquely appropriate narrator for this tale as his very mode of existence showcases Watts' entire argument in microcosm; and interestingly his entire development as a character is the reverse of the development of the story and even of the universe itself. Siri's story starts and ends as a very lonely one, but for very different reasons.
Another fascinating element of the tale is the fairly unique use of vampires as an off-shoot sub-species of humanity originally destroyed due to humanity's self-awareness and then brought back by high science to be our servants. These are probably the most frightening vampires I've yet come across in fiction, not only because of the pseudo-scientific "plausibility", but primarily because of what we eventually discover about them in the story's conclusion.
I will say very little about "Rorschach", the alien entity with whom humanity attempts to communicate in this tale of first contact, except to say that the Lovecraftian enigma of its seeming indifference to human existence is truly chilling in its implications. Far more than any dreaming Cthulhu, Rorschach is an entity whose strangeness is truly to be feared.
All in all this was a rewarding, though deeply uncomfortable, read.
Rating: 3.5 It appears as though there might actually be some life left in the vampire story (no pun intended) despite the glut of crap currently on th...moreRating: 3.5 It appears as though there might actually be some life left in the vampire story (no pun intended) despite the glut of crap currently on the market. Martin does a good job with this one and his usual flair for character and exciting plots is readily apparent. His take on the vampire myth is a good one that eschews many of the more extravagent elements of the myth, but stays true to the core of it in a very interesting way. The depiction of riverboat life on the Mississippi is well done and adds a lot to the story as we follow taciturn captain Abner Marsh on his journey into a gothic underworld that turns his life's dream into a nightmare.(less)