A few years ago, when all the books of this ilk first began to be released, I swore I would not give in to the fad. At first this was rather easy, bec...moreA few years ago, when all the books of this ilk first began to be released, I swore I would not give in to the fad. At first this was rather easy, because I am not the sort of person who is generally inclined to read Pride and Prejudice either with or without zombies. I have far too much sense to give in to Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters, or so I liked to think. At the very least, there were already far too many books to read on my list for me to add on some cheap Victorian retreads. Oh the follies of youth.
Fast forward a few years to yesterday, when I found myself wandering through the Hudson Books at an airport looking for something to read and spotted this little gem of alternate-history. Knowing that the film is due this summer, and being a bit of a pushover when it comes to vamp-fiction, my resolve folded like a reed in a windstorm and it simply had to come home with me. There I sat, wedged between a drunken suburban soccer mom on her first solo holiday in two decades and a business traveler who really should have bought a spare seat for his extra girth, plunged deep into the American frontier of the early 19th Century.
Presented as the lost journals of Abraham Lincoln, this book could easily have been an anachronistic mess. Fortunately, Seth Grahame-Smith appears to have done a fair amount of research on the subject and does an exemplary job of mixing the actual details of Lincoln's life with his corrupt and evil vampires. Having lost his mother to a vampire in his youth, Lincoln swears revenge against the undead, hunting and decapitating them throughout the Mid-West wilderness with the help of an ever-changing cast of sidekicks and the training of a guilt-ridden vampire named Henry. Eventually his passion for freedom and his masterful skills at oration lead him into politics and a head-on conflict with the Southern slave states and their shadowy puppet masters, a cabal of blood-suckers heavily invested in the free blood that slaves provide.
While I often found myself wishing for more descriptions of the actual vampire hunting, rather than the terse debriefs that Lincoln offered in his journal, Grahame-Smith has done a bang-up job in bringing to life a Lincoln not many readers outside the historical community are familiar with. He was haunted by the death of his mother his whole life and when he began to lose his children to vaguely understood illnesses both he and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, were struck by a depression that would seem more fitting in an early 90s rock star living in Seattle battling a heroin problem. He retreated from his family into his work of keeping the Union whole, while Mary Todd began consulting an ever-changing assortment of psychics and charlatans to try to contact the ghosts of their beloved children.
This was an enormously fast read- I started it on the runway in Chicago and by the time my layover in Denver was coming to an end five hours later I was searching my bag for another book to keep me distracted from the endless joys of riding in a metal tin with my fellow humans. I'm still hesitant to buy into the overall idea of these historic monster novels, but as a stand alone lark one could do a lot worse than Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and I know I will likely see the film when it's released a little later this summer.(less)
Know how to beat a crippling addiction to zombie books? Find the most poorly written series available and read until your eyes bleed. I think that thi...moreKnow how to beat a crippling addiction to zombie books? Find the most poorly written series available and read until your eyes bleed. I think that this book has finally shaken the last vestiges of my zombie love from me. The scenes with actual zombies are mildly entertaining, but the endless (ENDLESS!) pages of characters shacking up with one another, thinking about shacking up with one another, or agonizing about having shacked up with someone had me wanting to pull my eyes out and flush them away so that I could not read another word.
The female duo from the first book are significantly weakened and watered down here as Jeni falls head over heels for her one-time nemesis Juan and Katie remembers that "oh yeah!" before she was married to the wife of her dreams (who had then became the zombie of her nightmares), she had liked men too! What a coincidence that there is a kind and gentle giant ruling with a velvet glove over these survivors. How perfectly convenient. It bugged me. I understand Frater's often repeated points about how society expects people to fall on one side or the other of the gender binary and how it just isn't fair to force people to limit themselves to others' definitions of secuality, but I still hated it. Katie was a strong, self sufficient, lesbian trying to cope with some crippling PTSD after being chased by her zombified wife in the first book, but here she just grated on my nerves. And the rape. Please do not get me started on the rape scene. Ever. If you are at the bottom of the zombie literature barrel and absolutely must have one more, I would still recommend passing over these books. (less)
The creators of trilogies have my sympathy. Theirs is not an easy job and nowhere is this more evident than with the middle arc of a series. The secon...moreThe creators of trilogies have my sympathy. Theirs is not an easy job and nowhere is this more evident than with the middle arc of a series. The second installment of a series is nearly always the most difficult. You have to keep the characters that you introduced in the first book interesting, they need to face new challenges, the mythos of the world needs to become more clearly defined and the story needs to build to a fever pitch so that it can climax in the concluding book. Sometimes it can be masterfully done and add a richness and depth to the series that is normally absent in the first installment, as was managed with Empire Strikes Back, but far more often it ends up falling to pieces under the weight of its creators' ambitions, such as with happened with The Matrix Reloaded.
After the thrilling post-apocalyptic road tale that was The Passage I had exceptionally high hopes that Justin Cronin was going to pull off what has thus far proven well-nigh impossible: crafting a dystopian world with humanity beset by feral beasties that is capable of telling a compelling story even after the initial fall of civilization. Everyone loves a good end-of-days scenario, and they're none too difficult to compose. But what happens after? Where do your survivors go once they've banded together and temporarily bough a reprieve from the destructive forces arrayed against them? When we closed the last pages of The Passage a few years ago we had been left with the tantalizing clue that the supposed safe haven at Roswell had been overrun by the blood-sucking fiends, despite the temporary reprieve that the small band of survivors had been granted when they had destroyed one of the original twelve test subjects responsible for loosing the plague of vampirism on the world. When I first read the book, before learning that it was the first of a trilogy, I thought it was a fitting end. Humanity had won a small victory but numbers are telling and there was no way the survivors could hold back the flood forever.
The Twelve picks up five years after the conclusion of The Passage, after a satisfying if completely unnecessary 150 page flashback to the initial fall that serves to introduce several incredibly interesting characters (Bernard Kittredge may be the most realistic portrayal of an amputee that I've read in some time) that turn out to be so much filler just to flesh out the mythology of this world. And what a mythos it is- an odd and jarring mixture of a weird christian apocalyptic tale of a cleansing plague, Noah's flood with blood in place of water, to basically reboot life on earth as we know it mixed with a rather twisted story of a family torn apart by a miscarriage and how the reverberations of that loss have echoed down through history. Sure, he's fleshed out our understanding of the vampires and added an interesting Renfield twist by granting the chemically-castrated sexual predators who had cared for the Twelve test subjects eternal life and making them the familiars of the Twelve, but it all just seems unnecessary. There are far too many invocations of the Deus ex Machina throughout the story for me to feel that any of the characters have any individual agency but are instead just moving around like pieces on a gameboard so that Cronin can inevitable lead us to the great revelations that will conclude book three, which after the events of book two seem incredibly obvious to me and even more crypto-religious than even the execrable end of the Matrix series.
Was it worth reading? Sure. Will I read the third book? Yeah, I've already placed it on hold at the library. Will anyone remember this series once it's time in the sun is over? Probably not. Most of the tricks that Cronin pulls out in here have been done better in other series- for example, the familiars were far better when they were called Chevaliers in the anime Blood+ and the bureaucracy of the infected in the Iowan prison town was more believable in the Ethan Hawke film Daybreakers- and most of the fun I had while reading it involved thinking of all the parallels to other dystopian or vampire series. I wish that Cronin would have made harder choices for his world instead of following the Campbellian ur-myth so rigidly. I'm curious to read how he'll bring closure to the series but I wouldn't say I'm as invested as I was after finishing The Passage. (less)
I should have known better than to segue from Mario Vargas Llosa into the cheap pablum of another Repairman Jack adventure. I should have realized tha...moreI should have known better than to segue from Mario Vargas Llosa into the cheap pablum of another Repairman Jack adventure. I should have realized that it would be akin to drinking a shot of Eagle Rare, neat, with a Kool-Aid back. I should have known this and, to be fully honest, a part of me did admit to it on some deep down unconscious level. Yet that did not stop me at all. I had a new Jack book in my hands- not just any Jack but the second to last book in a series that has stretched so long Wilson could have given The Wheel Of Time pointers in how to draw out unnecessary story lines. I was nearing the cusp, the coup de grace, the finishing move with which Wilson would unleash his literary fury and leave his opponents/readers teetering, knocked out on their feet like so many Mortal Kombat matches.
I should have known better. For the past three or four books, Wilson has been saying that he's had a grand plan for Jack, his eminently entertaining antihero. This was all building for something and if readers had patience it would all be revealed in good time. Well, I've finished the penultimate Repairman Jack and I know where this has been going since Day One: a new series for F. Paul Wilson to dick around his readers with. Yep. There won't be any conclusion to the next Repairman Jack book, just as there wasn't for this one, or the previous five or six. Instead there will be new battles to fight in the apparently unceasing struggle between the Ally and the Otherness.
He's the stereotyped pusher on the corner, slinging sub-par product to desperate junkies who want their adrenaline fix. Instead we get this ridiculous story that adds up to 80% baby laxative, 10% fiddling while Rome burns, and 10% recap of everything we've already read. Wilson has a plan all right- keep pumping out tripe like this for as long as it takes until he is either imprisoned for crimes against the written word or he loses enough of a fan base that he experiences a moment of clarity and renounces his hack past. It's going to be a train wreck waiting for this moment though.(less)
You can stop now. You have officially sucked all the life out of all of your characters and made them all eminently dislikable....moreDear Charlaine Harris,
You can stop now. You have officially sucked all the life out of all of your characters and made them all eminently dislikable. I know this is your cash cow but, please, let Alan Ball take over for you and you can go and do... whatever it is that you do to occupy your time. Bake moon pies? Write Robert Pattinson fanfic? Hunt for the long-mythologized swamp weasel of South Carolina? Anything would be an improvement over you letting your imagination continue to run amok in Bon Temps.
I probably wouldn't mind so much if ANYTHING HAPPENED in this 300 page travesty of a "book" but I guess you were too busy counting your True Blood royalties to bother too much with a little detail like that. Instead you wanted to write 20 page scenes about taking Sookie's telepathic cousin to the park or the funeral of an incredibly minor character who you have only ever mentioned in passing before. Why should we care? You allude to much, but in the end you say NOTHING and I'm left bitter that I waited anxiously for this book to finally be returned to the library so that I could read it.
I would have been better off watching this Snoop Dogg fan video again. In summation, you and I are through. Please stop taunting me with your stupid ass book covers and ridiculous sex scenes.
Changing seasons invariably bring a change to my tastes. Just as I put aside the dirge-like post-rock that soundtracks most of my winter in favor of b...moreChanging seasons invariably bring a change to my tastes. Just as I put aside the dirge-like post-rock that soundtracks most of my winter in favor of breezy pop songs that make me want to skip down the street, so to do I put aside the dry contemporary fiction that is my usual bread and butter in favor of light popcorn reads that do little but excite the imagination and titillate my id. It's sort of like the literary equivalent of a Michael Bay movie. Just as I am confident in stating that LCD Soundsystem's new record, This Is Happening, is the summer jam of the year, so too am I confident in claiming that Justin Cronin's The Passage is the can't miss beach read of the year.
Cronin's vamps are feral beasties with fleeting shreds of their humanity left, their wills subverted and bent in order to serve one of the original dozen vampires- former death row inmates turned test subjects in a government experiment. A bit long in tooth, the book spends the first 200 pages detailing the origins of this experiment and the two FBI agents assigned first to convince inmates to sign over their lives to the program, then when these test subjects turn out to be unwieldy, to procure an innocent to test their serum on. This innocent, Amy, of course turns out to be the key to everything.
Naturally everything falls apart and the vamps escape, laying waste to the nation faster than you can spell nosferatu. Herein lies my major problem with the book, and it's more a complaint of personal taste than anything else. I wanted to hear more about the initial fall, I wanted to read about pitched battles in the streets against ravenous hordes of undead monsters. Instead Cronin leaves us to piece it together from scattered newspaper accounts, military reports, and recollections of survivors decades after the fact as he shifts the time-line forward to a hundred years after the fall to one of the last remaining bastions of humanity. Kept alive by an aging bank of lights and an enormous wall, these survivors stumble across the now immortal Amy, struck mute by amnesia after a century of wandering alone, and decode the RFID chip implanted in her neck asking her to be returned to Colorado in order to manufacture a cure to the vampiric plague. What follows is an intense and unforgettable journey across the rubble of American civilization and the uncountable risks the weary band come across along the way.
It'd be easy to deride this book as just another in the long line of vampire schlock flooding the shelves in order to sate our seemingly never-ending romantic obsession with allegorical death had Justin Cronin not taken the trope to a whole new level by melding his vampires with a fascinating post-civilized America, all the tropes of a good road novel and main characters so fleshed out that they often seem startlingly human. This is a far cry from the soap opera machinations of Charlaine Harris or the Victorian primness of Stephanie Meyer and I can not wait for the inevitable film adaptation- if only for the scene featuring the high velocity escape by train that marks the high point of the book for me. I couldn't put this tome down and wish there were another 700 pages to immerse myself in.(less)