I was something like nineteen when I read this book and it blew my mind. It is part memoir, part science-fiction adventure, part war story, part chron...moreI was something like nineteen when I read this book and it blew my mind. It is part memoir, part science-fiction adventure, part war story, part chronicle of failing memory and mental illness, and, as the famous opening line implies, “more or less true.” I don’t even know what else to say except go read or reread this book. I’d like to excerpt the whole thing. Here is the full title, which is impressive by itself:
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance with Death, by Kurt Vonnegut, A Fourth-Generation German-American Now Living in Easy Circumstances on Cape Cod [and Smoking Too Much], Who, as an American Infantry Scout Hors de Combat, as a Prisoner of War, Witnessed the Fire Bombing of Dresden, Germany, ‘The Florence of the Elbe,’ a Long Time Ago, and Survived to Tell the Tale. This is a Novel Somewhat in the Telegraphic Schizophrenic Manner of Tales of the Planet Tralfamadore, Where the Flying Saucers Come From. Peace.
In the first pages of Drood, Dan Simmons latest novel, the narrator promises to answer the questions that perhaps no one else alive in the late ninete...moreIn the first pages of Drood, Dan Simmons latest novel, the narrator promises to answer the questions that perhaps no one else alive in the late nineteenth-century knew to ask: “Did the famous and loveable and honourable Charles Dickens plot to murder an innocent person and dissolve away his flesh in a pit of caustic lime and secretly inter what was left of him, mere bones and a skull, in the crypt of an ancient cathedral that was an important part of Dickens’s own childhood? And did Dickens then scheme to scatter the poor victim’s spectacles, rings, stickpins, shirt stubs, and pocket watch in the River Thames? And if so, or even if Dickens only dreamed he did these things, what part did a very real phantom named Drood have in the onset of such madness?” It is almost impossible not to keep reading.
Either you enjoy novels that suggest one of the world’s greatest authors was manipulated by a supernatural being, or you don’t. If you do, this book is one hell of a treat. Narrator Wilkie Collins, a lesser author and sometimes collaborator with Dickens, attempts to discover the source of his friend’s unraveling shortly after the Steplehurst train accident. In the remaining years of Dickens’s life, Collins travels through graveyards, crypts, underground sewers, opium dens, and the slums of London as he acts as his friend’s guardian, companion, competitor, and ultimately enemy while they attempt to track down the mysterious figure, Drood. And all while Collins himself is spiraling down into his own growing addiction to laudanum. If you’re going to search for a phantom in the graveyards, crypts, sewers, opium dens, and slums of nineteenth-century London, being guided by a laudanum addict is really the way to go.
Simmons’s book is a door-stopper at 784 pages, but the pages turn quickly. He uses an extensive knowledge of his subjects -Dickens and his city, London- to weave a convincing tale, albeit far-fetched one. The characters and events are real: the Staplehurts train accident, Dickens’s failing health and increasingly fantastic readings, and Wilkie Collins’s growing addiction to opiates are all historically accurate. And Simmons’s Drood, a pale, sinister monster, neither ghoul, vampire, or shaman but alternately all three at once, is a truly terrifying creation. Simmons slides his villain easily into nineteenth-century London. As the novel progresses Drood becomes omnipresent, implied on every page Simmons writes, stalking in the shadows of every scene. Keeping with the tradition of true speculative fiction, Simmons applies his “what if” to a fully realized London, complete with a sprawling cast, quirky characters, and eighteenth-century social etiquettes, to give a novel that is at turns hilarious, sinister, surreal and down-right Dickensian in scope. The result is a novel that terrifies, teaches the reader about the real Charles Dickens, and always entertains.(less)