I so want to give this a good review. Hell, it’s Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, whom I’ve defended time and again against the people who thiI so want to give this a good review. Hell, it’s Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors, whom I’ve defended time and again against the people who think that graphic novels have little redeeming value. But Eternals falls far short of what could have been such a great story. I mean, I know what Neil’s capable of writing, and even when he’s mediocre, he’s at least far more interesting than the average writer.
Now, I’ll admit that I’m more a DC fan than I am a Marvel fan. 1602 was a great Gaiman-Marvel mesh, because the major players in that story were … well, the major players for Marvel. It’s hard not to recognize Robert Reed and the X-Men, when they’re some of the biggest characters in the franchise. But a bunch of obscure Jack Kirby characters? Shoot, I had a hard enough time understanding the back continuity of the original Sandman character.
This should have been a great story, because Neil is so good at taking older, obscure characters and giving them a new, interesting life. He and Alan Moore have always been great at this sort of thing, but with Eternals, I found much of the reinventing boring and uninteresting. At times, it reminded me so much of Moore’s work on Miracleman (the group-induced amnesia, and the all-too-brutal solution to a childish problem) that I wonder if Alan even knows what Neil’s done with the story. Maybe if I had a better understanding of the original eternals, I would feel differently, but as a stand-alone story, it’s disappointing.
And speaking of stand-alone stories, Eternals isn’t. It’s a set-up, it’s exposition, so much so that I went online to discover if this was a graphic novel, a mini-series, or an ongoing series for Gaiman again. Despite the lack of any clear resolution, Eternals was a mini-series, a self-contained story that’s supposed to have a start, a middle, and an ending. It has the first two elements, but that last, crucial part of the story is missing. Ah, but I also find out that Marvel has decided to continue the series, with a new writer-artist combo. Really? I’m shocked. I mean, considering that the greatest threat to humankind is left standing, with less than 14 hours to go before a possible annihilation, with all the main characters dispersing to find more heroes, I’m amazed that there’s anything left to tell.
It seems like Marvel tapped Neil to come up with a new series, to create the genesis of a revamped mythology, for other people to write. While this is fine in its own right, I can’t help but recall Lady Justice, World of Wheels, and Teknophage, some of the other series Neil created for other writers, but which all failed miserably when all the Gaiman fanboys realized that it took more than an idea to be a Neil Gaiman story. I can’t fault Neil for the opportunity (the included interviews and behind-the-scenes bonuses in the collection reveal a genuine enthusiasm for what he did), but it’s a shame that he won’t be the writer to continue the series.
If you’re a Gaiman fan, it’s worth reading, but please, save yourself some money and check it out from the library, or borrow it from a friend. It would be a shame to pay full price for the book, given how little story it actually contains. I’m certainly disappointed that I did so, and I’m one of the biggest Gaiman fanboys out there. Just ask my Death tattoo....more
It’s a given that I’m going to read anything by Stephen King. I’m not the fanboy that I used to be, but he was the writer who got me most interested iIt’s a given that I’m going to read anything by Stephen King. I’m not the fanboy that I used to be, but he was the writer who got me most interested in doing some writing of my own, and I still think he has an extraordinary knack for characterization and raw storytelling. Even when his stories don’t go very far (The Colorado Kid), or are otherwise insubstantial (Lisey’s Story), I’m still very much wrapped up in his style, and find myself compelled to read the stories.
Like most short story collections, Just After Sunset is a mixed bag. There are some good stories (”N.”), some great stories, (”The Things They Left Behind”), some predictable stories (”Willa”), some experimental stories (”Harvey’s Dream”), a few weird stories (”Stationary Bike”), and some flat-out terrible stories (”A Very Tight Space”). The good news is that the good stories are a reminder that King still hasn’t lost that knack for good storytelling.
If I had to pick a favorite out of the bunch, it would have to be “N.”, since it hearkens back to when King was such a great horror writer. He captures atmosphere very well in this story, and the Lovecraftian overtones in the story are perfect. The setting, the characters, and the depiction of the slow decline of the main character are all perfect. Good horror fiction is still a guilty pleasure of mine, and I would love it if he could return to writing it consistently. Even “The Cat from Hell,” the collection’s “hidden bonus track” (according to the author, since it’s the one story that was written back when he was still making ends meet writing for men’s magazines), can’t compare with “N.”
“The Things They Left Behind” is a more personal story, about the aftereffects of 9/11. It’s a story of tragedy and redemption, of the haunted and the haunter, and the personal effects a disaster can have on so many people. That he taps in to that shared memory of such a terrible event cements the story as much more “real” than the others in the collection, and thus it will probably have a profound effect on readers who were “there” (either in person or via the news) when it happened. The personal touches of the story are effective and powerful. The only reason I didn’t pick this story as my favorite is because the sense of horror and dread in this story were very real, to the point of making me uncomfortable; in “N.”, it was more a case of how reading a good story can make me a little giddy with excitement. While “The Things They Left Behind” is more literary, “N.” reminds me of those days when I was first discovering King as a writer.
For the most part, the stories in the collection aren’t outstanding, but those two stories are certainly worth reading. I’m a completist when it comes to authors, though, and there was never a question as to whether I would read the whole thing. In this case, my perseverance paid off....more
First of all, if you haven’t heard yet, Neil won the 2008 Newbery Award for this book. He had an awesome “acceptance speech” that leaked from TwitterFirst of all, if you haven’t heard yet, Neil won the 2008 Newbery Award for this book. He had an awesome “acceptance speech” that leaked from Twitter to the rest of the world:
FUCK!!!! I won the FUCKING NEWBERY THIS IS SO FUCKING AWESOME.
It may not be the most appropriate thing for the winner of a young adult fiction award to say, but it is totally Neil. In fact, he has a really amusing story on his blog about receiving the call from the committee:
You are on a speakerphone with at least 14 teachers and librarians and suchlike great, wise and good people, I thought. Do not start swearing like you did when you got the Hugo. This was a wise thing to think because otherwise huge, mighty and fourletter swears were gathering. I mean, that’s what they’re for.
If for no other reason, I’m quoting that to justify swearing, because he’s absolutely right: Moments like that are why those words exist.
Anyway, my second point is that you should know by now that if you’re looking for a strictly objective review of a Neil Gaiman book, then you should stop reading now. Because while I can say that this book isn’t quite on the same level as either Stardust or Coraline, it’s still a very Gaiman story, and it still ranks among my favorite of his books. The book is essentially a loose collection of short stories based on the life of Bod (short for “Nobody”), who has been taken in to be raised by the resident ghosts of a graveyard. Why? The rest of his family was murdered, and they arranged for the rest of the ghosts to adopt and raise him shortly thereafter. Each chapter-story is centered on Bod at a different age, so we get to see how he grows up in such an environment. It’s possibly the oddest coming-of-age story I’ve read, but it works, and Gaiman is such a skilled writer that even the plainly-obvious denouement makes perfect sense.
Is it dark? Yes and no. I mean, the book starts off with a murder, and an infant crawling away from the same fate. It’s set in a graveyard, full of friendly ghosties and horrible ghoulies. The main character has the same abilities as the ghosts, but he’s still human. But after the first chapter, you accept all of these facts and fall into Bod’s world and life. It becomes just a setting, and the story takes on a life of its own. Bod struggles to be normal in a world of oddities, and isn’t that the subject of just about every YA novel?
I’m glad that Neil has won the Newbery Award. The stories he writes, which are typically full of mythology, legends, and fairy tales, are the perfect subject for young-adult fiction, and a lot of the popular YA stories are fantasies, anyway. I would have been extremely stoked had he won it for Coraline (which I find to be an immensely better novel than The Graveyard Book, as much as I like them both), but if you’re going to award it to a young-adult fantasy writer, then Neil Gaiman is a good place to start....more
I’m not one to read any Oprah Book Club books, but when it was selected for my wife’s book discussion group, and when I learned that it was a pseudo rI’m not one to read any Oprah Book Club books, but when it was selected for my wife’s book discussion group, and when I learned that it was a pseudo retelling of Hamlet, and that it involved the relationship between a boy and his dogs, I figured I would give it a go. If nothing else, the supernatural events in the book would keep my interest, I thought.
In the end, I was pretty caught up with the story and the book. I’ve been known to show more empathy for animals than humans, so seeing the relationship between Edgar and Almondine (as unrealistic as some of that relationship seemed to me at times) was something I could relate to and understand. That alone kept me reading, even when the story got to be really slow. And it got really, really slow during Edgar’s exile. I sort of wanted to give up on it at that point, but I was already more than halfway through the book, and my wife was encouraging me to finish it so we could talk about it.
In the end, I didn’t finish the book in time to discuss it in my wife’s book club, but I did eventually finish it, on New Year’s Eve. I figured that it would be a good idea to finish the book in the same year in which I started reading it, and I had started reading it back in November. And while I really enjoyed the relationships, and was impressed with the narrative and language that the author used in the book, I was incredibly disappointed with the ending. It’s depressing as hell, so it’s not a book I would recommend reading while on the second floor of a building, unless it doesn’t have any windows. It made the entire effort of reading the book seem pointless, and I hate feeling like that. It wasn’t quite as bad as the ending to Son of Rosemary, but come on; you have to make a concerted effort to be worse than that.
I don’t really know if I would recommend this book or not. I might feel differently if I had participated in the discussion, and had an idea of what topics were discussed, but when I finished it and said to my wife how depressing the ending was, she agreed, and we didn’t talk about it much more than that. It was just such a let down, for both of us, I think....more
If ever there were a book that screamed “No Brainer” at me, as far as whether or not I would read it, this is it. The blurb on the cover made referencIf ever there were a book that screamed “No Brainer” at me, as far as whether or not I would read it, this is it. The blurb on the cover made reference to The Phantom Tollbooth. Another on the back made reference to both Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker, and one on the inside front cover of the book mentioned Lewis Carroll. I mean, that’s a list of my favorite book, one of my favorite writers, and a writer who has continually astounded me with his imagination. How could I pass this one up?
If I had to pick just one of those comparisons, though, to best describe the book, it would have to be Clive Barker. Anyone who’s read his Arabat series is going to find some similarities here. There are some dark moments and some wild creations in Un Lundun, and I found myself thinking of Barker’s imagery during much of the book. I can see some of the comparison to The Phantom Tollbooth (there are some puns come to life throughout the book), but the one to Gaiman is a little less convincing. But regardless, this is still an enjoyable book.
The premise behind the book is that, behind London, there exists a world very much like London, but also very much different from it. There are different ways to pass between the worlds, but suffice it to say, the London side of things is the London that we know over here, while the Unlundun side is where you find the fantastic creatures and the wild magic. Deeba discovers Unlundun when her friend, Zanna, finds her way over there through the help of some strange happenings due to a prophecy that Zanna will be the one to free Unlundun from the tyranny of the Smog. And, just to be clear, the Smog isn’t just smog; it’s the Smog, sentient and powerful and all together nasty. If the Smog gets its way, then all of Unlundun will be under its power, and after then, it will move and try to do the same to regular London.
There is a lot of detail in this book. The author creates fantastic creature, only to have them serve as a counterpoint to other normality, or to only be in the book for a chapter or two. The ideas and imagination can be a little overwhelming, as the author strives to put as much as possible in his book. As a result, the story suffers slightly as he seems to pay more attention to the detail than he does to the characters. The characterization does suffer, but not only from his attention to the setting; the characters sometimes seem superficial and two-dimensional, even as they’re working toward the greater good to save Unlundun. It’s a strange dichotomy, and while it does detract from the overall feel of the story, it doesn’t slow down the process as you read it.
This is primarily a children’s/YA novel, and should be approached as one. Its heavy-handed message and dark overtones make it suitable for readers of any age, but ultimately, it should be viewed as a product of its audience. Nevertheless, readers who like imaginative fiction and creative ideas would not be displeased with the book....more
This is not the sort of book I would normally choose to read. It was a Today show book club selection, and almost any time a book is selected by a morThis is not the sort of book I would normally choose to read. It was a Today show book club selection, and almost any time a book is selected by a morning talk-show for “discussion,” warning alarms go off in my head. It will probably be too artsy-fartsy or fancy-schmancy for me. But my wife read the book, and really enjoyed it, and she asked me to read it. The premise sounded interesting enough, so I figured what the heck.
I wound up liking this book far more than I expected. This story is about a relationship, and all its ups and downs, relating to the main character’s inability to control his leaps through time, along with all the other usual relationship stuff folks encounter. The author manages to capture the two characters and their relationship effectively, so it’s hard not to care for them, and care what happens to them. It’s also hard not to keep reading, since she starts the novel off with Henry, in his mid-thirties, popping naked into a field and introducing himself to his wife, who is only six years old (oddly, there’s nothing perverted about the scene).
Structurally, this book is pretty amazing. She manages to create a relationship where Henry, who has been in an adult relationship with Clare for about six years, pops back into Clare’s history and makes himself an integral part of her life for the next sixteen years. Then, when she’s about twenty-two, she meets Henry, who has never seen her before in his own life. And despite knowing that if she knows him, then they’re meant to be together, Henry has to take time to get to know her at all.
The novel is told in order through Clare’s life, but backwards through Henry’s. When they catch up, things are told more or less in order, with a few jumps here and there, and that the author managed to map out this huge diorama of a disjointed life is pretty impressive. There was only one logical inconsistency that I noticed in the story, when Henry taught his younger self how to do something important. It was a closed loop, but it may have been intentional. Everything else made sense, unless I missed something that was a little more subtle.
I was also put off a bit in the way that the author chose to narrate the book. The story is told in first person, but from both Henry and Clare. She jumps back and forth between them, and to clarify who’s speaking, she states at the beginning of the section who it is. So, when Clare is speaking, the narrative starts “Clare:“, and for Henry, it begins “Henry:“. It’s a bit jarring, and at first it’s also a bit confusing, since both characters seem to have identical voices. After a while, though, the transition becomes more natural, and you’ll become accustomed to the convention.
Other than those minor issues, this is a great book. It has some appeal to sci-fi readers, will interest folks interested in light fantasy or magic realism, and will also hold well with people who want to read something romantic. It’s a hefty book (it has to cover two whole lives, after all), but it’s well worth the time to read it....more
One can find book recommendations in the oddest places. I used to read Spot the Frog, a charming comic strip about a frog living with an older gentlemOne can find book recommendations in the oddest places. I used to read Spot the Frog, a charming comic strip about a frog living with an older gentleman. I recently heard that the strip was ending, and discovered that the author had a blog. In the blog, I found that this writer was a fan of Joe Lansdale, among other writers I like, and along the way I read his review of a book by Sean Stewart about a haunted man who could see the dead. It sounded like my thing, so I found it at the library.
On the cover of the book, Neal Stephenson gushes, “Stephen King meets Ibsen. Trust me,” and that’s about the scope of it. It’s a literate horror novel, with some delicious imagery and emotion. Just as you start to think that this is a character-driven novel of personal struggle, the author throws in a couple of plot elements to keep you hooked. But he’ll still keep you guessing, as the end of the main plot ends about 40 pages before the end of the book. There’s a lot in the book to keep you interested, and to keep you reading.
The book is about William Kennedy, a man who has been able to see ghosts since he was about eight years old. He knows they are ghosts, because they are always black-and-white, even when everything around them is in color. They get to the real world through the use of “ghost roads,” which are gray alleyways, sidewalks, or corridors that they walk down. The roads are their connections back to the living, and each ghost is connected for one reason or another. Maybe it’s revenge; maybe it’s because they have something to tell a loved one; maybe they just don’t realize yet that they are dead. When Will tries to help his cousin with one of his ghosts, he finds something dark and dangerous, and then when his cousin dies as a result, Will goes from being the man who sees ghosts to a man who is haunted by one of those ghosts.
The imagery of the ghost roads is amazing to me, and when the author gets down to describing Will’s own journey down one of these roads, you will find yourself entranced. The author writes in a crisp, lean style, and he manages to bring the world of the dead to life with a minimal amount of words. The book is only 243 pages long, but you will find yourself thinking that the book has to be longer. There’s so much packed into this brief novel that you may find yourself drowning in the narrative without realizing you were even submerged. And what you’ll find as you read the novel is that Will is haunted, but not because he sees ghosts.
This is an extraordinary novel, and not the sort of thing you would expect if you go into it thinking that it’s going to be a horror novel. It’s deeper and more resonant than that type of genre fiction, and you will find yourself thinking of it long after you’ve finished it. In Ibsen, you find a lot of idolizing of man’s struggle against himself; in Perfect Circle, you’ll find the same thing, and this is what makes the novel work so well....more
Joe King Hill is a pretty good writer. I mean, he should be, given his lineage. If he didn’t pick anything up from a lifetime of being around his fathJoe King Hill is a pretty good writer. I mean, he should be, given his lineage. If he didn’t pick anything up from a lifetime of being around his father, then he would deserve to be nothing more than a name-dropper. That he’s not a name-dropper, and that he has enjoyed some deserved success over the years is an indication that he did, in fact, pick up and/or inherit the skillz necessary to be a successful horror writer. A lot of people will probably pick up his fiction out of curiosity, and I expect that a good many of them will be surprised by what they find. Many of them will come back for more, though, I would expect.
Heart-Shaped Box was a pretty good read, though a bit clunky. A first novel typically is, because writers find that sustaining a plot for longer than their accustomed 10,000 words is trickier than expected. What was impressive about the novel was that his narrative flew, and captured you even when the events it described were a little hard to believe. I won’t belabor the point, since you can read that review here on my blog, but let’s just say that I was apprehensive, knowing who the author was, but was pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
20th Century Ghosts is a collection of Hill’s short stories, most of them published before the novel. (This is actually a trade release of a previously limited edition of the book, with a couple of extra stories included.) Some are weird, others made me wonder what the heck was going on, but most of them were rather impressive. It opens with a story that won’t mean much to you unless you follow some of the smaller horror fiction magazines, or have at least tried to break into that market in the past. It’s titled “Best New Horror,” and is a rather formulaic story about an editor who’s tired of formulaic stories. By itself, it’s not really that impressive (and it opens with some brutal, misogynistic imagery that might turn many people off of the entire collection), but that second layer of irony makes it a little more interesting. And it’s this sense of style, I think, that makes Hill successful.
“You Will Hear the Locust Sing” is Hill’s take on Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”; “The Cape” is a revenge story taken above and beyond what you would expect; “Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead” is a touching story of past loves set on the film set of a George Romero zombie movie; “The Black Phone” is that sort of horror story that uses a cliche in a new fashion, and that maintains the right amount of dread and suspense. In short, the stories work, and will surprise you, but the one story that makes this book necessary reading, to me, is “Pop Art.”
You have never read anything like “Pop Art.” It has a Kafka-esque beginning, where you’re introduced to a boy who is an inflatable doll, but like “The Metamorphosis,” once you accept that one, incredible point, the rest of the story falls into place. The story is told by Art’s best friend, and describes some of the trials and tribulations that go along with being an inflatable boy. It’s so much more than that, though. The story is about friendship, growing up, making sacrifices, love, and so much more, and it’s all conveyed in the span of 22 pages. I will concede that not all of the stories in this collection will be for everyone, but “Pop Art” is one of those stories that I expect to show up in literature collections in the next 20 years. It’s just that distinctive, and just that good.
I would only recommend Heart-Shaped Box to people who can stay with a book despite some issues with the core plot, and I would only recommend 20th Century Ghosts to those who can withstand some gruesome imagery. For anyone who reads for imagery, for prose, and for sheer effect, though, either book is worth reading. Come for the curiosity, but stay for the talent....more
This has been a slow year for me, as far as reading goes. I don’t really take a lunch hour at my new job, so I don’t have a way to get away from my woThis has been a slow year for me, as far as reading goes. I don’t really take a lunch hour at my new job, so I don’t have a way to get away from my work area to sit and read. As such, it means that I don’t have the same amount of time to read like I once did. Duma Key is only the fifth book I’ve read in 2008, and it took me all of April to get through it.
There’s not much here that you haven’t seen before in a Stephen King novel. The novel isn’t set in Maine, nor does it involve a main character who is a writer, but everything else is going to be very familiar. There’s the good guy, his newfound friends who mean the world to him, the evil thing, and the psychic connection between all of them. It sounds glib, and probably does a disservice to the book overall, but really, this is the same old Stephen King we’ve been reading for three decades now. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but I feel that it’s important to point this out.
I feel like King is just riding the wave of his success at this point. Ten or fifteen years ago, I might not have said that about him. Bag of Bones was a turning point for him, of achieving something more literary with his writing, and Hearts in Atlantis was probably the finest thing written by King since Different Seasons, but everything since then has been insubstantial, or more biographical than fictional. The adage is “Write what you know,” I know, and after 51 novels, I suppose there’s going to be some repetition, but still, there’s a part of me waiting for him to wow me all over again. He’s surprised me more than once, so why give up hope now?
Duma Key is a bit of a convoluted mess. Half of the novel is the setup, and the other half is the explanation, but the explanation seems to be tacked on, after King had established the setup. It’s not a secret that King doesn’t always flesh out his plots before writing them, and that’s unfortunately clear with this one. It’s like he started out with the gimmick, and then tried to figure out how to tie that in with anything reasonably related to it. And, yes, as I mentioned above, he goes back to evil spirits and psychic connections to explain it all away.
Speaking of explaining things away, I was a little miffed that King didn’t provide any sort of motivation for said evil spirit. We’re just meant to accept that there’s a malicious … THING in the story, and that it’s malicious just to be malicious. OK, yes, I know that’s the way things are in the real world, but this is a story. I expect at least some semi-plausible connection between the creature’s actions and the reasons behind those actions. Of course, when he’s done this in the past, it’s been a bit of a letdown (It, anyone?), so maybe he was trying to avoid those sorts of gaffes again. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t, I guess.
Duma Key isn’t a bad book. In fact, I would even call it a good book, based on some other chum I’ve read (it’s a far cry better than Blaze, that’s for sure). But it’s not a great book. And since I know that King can write great books, I can’t help but feel disappointed. Maybe the next one will be the hit....more
I’m always a bit shocked when a Neil Gaiman book manages to make a public release without me knowing about it. I wonder if I’m paying close enough attI’m always a bit shocked when a Neil Gaiman book manages to make a public release without me knowing about it. I wonder if I’m paying close enough attention to the blogs and journals that let me know about new releases. I mean, it’s Gaiman, and I didn’t know about it? What network did I miss?
InterWorld is a juvenile novel, not even a YA novel, though, and that might be how I missed it. I almost missed out on M Is for Magic, and I remember the first time I saw Coraline was long after it had been originally released. At least, that’s the story I’m telling.
InterWorld tells the story of Joey Harker, a young boy who discovers his ability to walk between similar worlds. There’s a theory in quantum physics that predicts that any time a serious enough decision is made, the world splits at that point, and creates one world that goes off in the direction where the decision goes one way, and one world where the decision goes off in another direction. Both worlds exist independently of each other, and each is equally valid and true. Of course, this doesn’t mean that a world splits off whenever you decide to eat cereal for breakfast instead of eggs, but it could mean that The Man in the High Castle may exist as nonfiction in another dimension.
Joey is a Walker, and can move between all those worlds. He’s also the most powerful Walker in existence, so he suddenly becomes the most popular guy in the InterWorlds, since the good guys, the bad guys, and the bad bad guys all want him for different reasons. It’s all a bit hokey and convoluted, and also a bit contrived and forced. It’s also awfully convenient in points, and shallow, and two-dimensional (ironically), and….
Well, if you’re a Neil Gaiman fanboy, nothing I can say will stop you from reading this book, except maybe this: This is not a Neil Gaiman book. I say this partly because this simply doesn’t read like a Neil Gaiman novel. I haven’t read much by Michael Reaves, but I’ve read a lot of Neil Gaiman, and think I can say with certainty that this is much more a Michael Reaves book than it is a Neil Gaiman book. I think a certain part of me wants to say that it’s a Reaves novel because it’s just so bland, but that’s really not why I say that. The book lacks a certain charm that Gaiman puts into his writing, and the language used doesn’t seem to be similar to that which Gaiman uses. A footnote at the end of the book details that the story is over 10 years old, and was put together as a novel over a long weekend after existing first as a television proposal. It doesn’t specify who served as the idea man, and who did all the grunt work, but it’s pretty obvious after finishing the book.
Look, remember Lady Justice? Teknophage? Mr. Hero the Newmatic Man? They all served to prove that a Neil Gaiman idea could not turn into a Neil Gaiman story unless Gaiman himself wrote the words. Unfortunately, InterWorld proves the same point. The book isn’t a complete disaster (for the target age group, the story probably works quite well), but if you’re looking for good Gaiman fiction for kids, look for M Is for Magic or Coraline, instead....more
For a while, I thought that Clive Barker was going to give up on standard horror novels. What with the popularity (and brilliance) of the Arabat serieFor a while, I thought that Clive Barker was going to give up on standard horror novels. What with the popularity (and brilliance) of the Arabat series, paired with the success of his earlier dark fantasy novel for a younger audience, The Thief of Always, I thought maybe he was going to take the route of other horror authors, and focus on writing for teens. Mister B. Gone marks his return to adult horror, and I’m pleased to say that it’s pretty good.
Barker has always been a little hit-or-miss with me. On the one hand, I enjoy his knack for finding the disturbing without having to be grotesque about it. One of my favorite scenes from any novel is the way that one creature’s eyes from Arabat crawl around on his face like insects, and even have the ability to crawl right off his body, and still see for him. It sends one of those pleasant shivers down my spine, because it genuinely creeps me out, without being violent or graphic. What’s odd about saying that is that Barker is known for being a progenitor of the “Splatterpunk” genre, where the graphic, detailed, violent imagery is as much a character of the stories as the people populating them. So, in a way, part of me enjoyed the YA-focus of his other novels, since it seemed to distill the violence down to something more effective. But that’s where it has always been hit-or-miss with me.
Mister B. Gone hits and misses, as well, for the same reasons. The hit is a good one, and is the main premise of the novel: A demon is speaking to us from within the prison of the very book we’re reading. In fact, it’s not really a book we’re reading, as it is a story we’re hearing told from the demon himself. Barker uses this premise to full effect, finding ways to disturb us with this connection. Just as we start to lose ourselves in the story, the demon comes back to speak to us, directly, and reminds us that we might have to pay a small price for hearing this story. It works, and it works well. I don’t think it will have anyone convinced that the premise could possibly be true, but like any good horror novel, it will make you wonder if you shouldn’t be listening to the demon’s entreaties a little more seriously….
The miss, though, is in the violence. Graphic depictions seem unnecessary to me, even when they fit in with the stories (Charlie Huston, I’m looking in your direction…). In this story, oddly enough, they seemed gratuitous, even if they were supposed to be spoken by a demon. Those moments were gross-outs, not creep-outs, and I always prefer the latter to the former. Gross-outs are cop-outs, to me, and are a cheap way of being “horror” when you can’t find enough of an emotional connection to truly frighten someone. It’s like the difference between the movies The Haunting and Friday the 13th; one is an effective story of psychological manipulation, while the other is just a slasher flick.
Luckily, the violence isn’t as over-the-top as it could have been, and the premise of the story carries it well enough to compensate for what violence is in the book. If you’re looking for a good, short scare, this might fit the bill. It’s a good read that won’t keep you thinking for too long after the story ends, but the short time that it will take you to finish the book will more than make up for that fact. It’s no Imajica or “In the Hills, the Cities,” but it shows that Barker hasn’t lost his touch just yet....more
I discovered Matt Ruff through Sewer, Gas, Electric: The Public Works Trilogy. If you haven’t read that one, find it and read it. It’s wacky and subveI discovered Matt Ruff through Sewer, Gas, Electric: The Public Works Trilogy. If you haven’t read that one, find it and read it. It’s wacky and subversive, and brilliantly plotted. Set This House in Order, the follow-up (though not a sequel) was several years in the works, but well worth the wait. It had so many red herrings and false leads that it read like a mystery-thriller, though it said much more about people and their relationships. Bad Monkeys was a book I eagerly awaited, and I was pleasantly surprised when I received notification that it was ready for me at the library.
It reads just like a good book should read: It’s tight, well written, compelling, and interesting. It has the same sorts of characteristics that made Set This House in Order one of the very few books that kept my wife up past midnight. And like that book, it read more like a mystery-thriller than impressions suggeste. At first, I thought it might be a “more of the same” sort of book, at least in style, but the plot is so different and so strange that it stands alone.
Bad Monkeys is about a woman named Jane Charlotte, who has been interred into a psychiatric institution, due to her possible schizophrenia. She relates the story of the events that brought her to the institution to her therapist, who is (obviously) doubtful of the accuracy of her story. And the author gives us many clues along the way to make us wonder who’s telling the truth, who’s really who they say they are, and if we’re reading along to another version of Fight Club. There are so many twists and turns in this story that it’s possible to get a little lost among the paths, but Ruff is a talented guide, who takes us to an end that may not be obvious, but is certainly satisfactory.
Unfortunately, Bad Monkeys isn’t this author’s best work. I still have to give that designation to Sewer, Gas, Electric, just because it’s the most original book he’s written (and possibly the most original book I’ve read in the past 15 years). But he is a skilled, talented author, and if you like stories with a great deal of suspense, a lot of “What the heck is going on?” moments, and want to read a compelling story that will keep you guessing, Bad Monkeys is a good place to start. Just make sure you work your way back through his catalog. You won’t be disappointed....more
Ever have those days where you put on an old jacket from last winter, and find a $20 bill in the pocket? That’s how I felt when I first heard about MEver have those days where you put on an old jacket from last winter, and find a $20 bill in the pocket? That’s how I felt when I first heard about M Is for Magic. I didn’t know that Neil Gaiman had a new book coming out, much less that he had pulled a Ray Bradbury by picking some of his stories appropriate for younger audiences, and packaging them together under a new title. Shoot, he even acknowledges Bradbury in the introduction and in “October in the Chair,” so it’s no surprise that he even adopted Bradbury’s old title format for the collection. Bradbury had R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space, and now we’ve covered the Ms, as well.
So, the reality is that if you’re a hardcore Gaiman fanboy, then you’ve read most all of these stories. There’s only one story here that’s an “exclusive” (”The Witch’s Headstone,” a wonderful romp that’s reminiscent of Jonathan Carroll’s early stuff), but I believe it’s going to see print in a future publication, anyway. The good news is that this is a lot like a “greatest hits” for Gaiman. “Chivalry,” possibly the best short work of fiction published last century, is there, as is “Troll Bridge” (which shows the darker side of growing up) and “The Price” (an even darker look at our pets and what they do for us), along with a newer “classic,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (an odd science fiction story that probably owes a small debt to Harlan Ellison).
Like any short story collection, there are a few misses here, including “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” but the premises and ideas behind the stories make up for what they lack in punch. Even Neil Gaiman can’t be on all the time, but even when he’s just puttering along, there’s much more going on to keep your interest than just the presentation. The story itself should keep you reading. Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, mediocre Neil Gaiman is definitely better than the best of some other authors I’ve read.
So, there may not be anything new here, and it may not all represent the best stuff that Gaiman has written, but M Is for Magic is a great introduction to a wonderful author. That it’s been released just in time for you to pick the collection up for the young reader in your family for Christmas isn’t, I doubt, a coincidence. Besides, if you haven’t read “Chivalry” yet, then your life isn’t quite yet complete....more