This one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so brigh...moreThis one's a 4.5, and I do have to say that while I was reading it, nature provided the perfect backdrop -- hard rain, thunder, and lightning so bright it flashed through the closed blinds. I would also like to say that Valancourt Books has done readers a huge favor with this reissued classic -- they have made it widely available at a very good price -- have you seen the cost of a used crappy mass market paperback of this book?
absolutely no spoilers ahead:
The Elementals focuses on two Alabama families, the Savages and the McCrays. They're linked together through marriage and the fact that both families have for years spent their summers at Beldame, "a long spit of land, no more than fifty yards wide," where there are three tall gray Victorian homes, "large, eccentric old houses such as appeared in coffee table books on outré American architecture." Back now at Beldame after the strange funeral of Marian Savage is her son Dauphin, who is married to Leigh McCray and has inherited the family fortune; Leigh's brother Luker and his too-wise-for-her-years thirteen-year-old daughter India McCray from New York City; Big Barbara McCray, Leigh and Luker's mother, married to Lawton McCray, a candidate for US congressional representative, and the faithful Odessa, who's worked with the Savages for as long as anyone can remember.
One one side of this narrow piece of land is St. Elmo's Lagoon; on the other is the Gulf of Mexico. At high tide, Beldame is cut off, becoming a virtual island when the Gulf flows into the lagoon. The McCrays have a house on the gulf side; just opposite their house on the lagoon side is the house belonging to the Savages. The third house nobody lives in. No one can: the sand dune at the end of the spit has been encroaching on that house so much so that, as India notices on first seeing it, it "did not merely encroach upon the house, it had actually begin to swallow it." The third house holds its secrets, as do the McCrays and the Savages regarding their own childhood experiences with the third house. All anyone will tell India is that she should stay away from it, but India has a mind of her own, and off she goes exploring. And then ..., well, to say more would be to wreck the experience for someone else.
There are so many excellent things about The Elementals -- the characters, the slowly-paced beginning moving slowly toward an ever-growing anticipation of dread and then headlong into the horrors -- but one of the best features of this novel is the author's ability to capture and evoke the sense of place in his writing. There are various schools of thought either yea or nay on place as a character in a novel, but here that's just how it is. The isolation of Beldame, the third house with the sand covering it both inside and out, the beautiful waters of the Gulf, St. Elmo's Lagoon, the channel, the sand, and above all, the paralyzing heat and humidity of a southern summer that sucks the energy right out of a person -- the way he brings all of this place to life allows it to act not only on the characters directly, but also on the reader. He's captured the Southern summer heat with its god-awful humidity so perfectly that I could totally feel it while reading about it. Even better, by the last sections of the book, McDowell has perfectly combined those rising temperatures with the increasingly-growing horror, producing a kind of claustrophobic atmosphere that remains with the reader nearly up until the last moment of the story.
I loved this novel. If you're considering reading it, do not look at any reviews where they give away the whole shebang -- if I had known what was going to happen I wouldn't have enjoyed this book nearly as much. And speaking of that, read this book very carefully if you are at all interested in trying to figure out the main mystery surrounding Beldame and the third house -- it's never overtly stated (which I thought was a good thing), but I think you'll find that there are answers there to dig out. The one thing I didn't like about this book was that the pacing seemed kind of off at the very end -- much more rushed than I think it should have been given the tone of the rest of the novel. But what the heck. It's one of the best supernatural horror stories I've read in a very long time. Maybe modern readers of hack/slash gorefests will find it somewhat tame, but I certainly didn't. (less)
A 3.75 rounded up. I have to say that imho, this is the best of Ms. Datlow's Best Horror of the Year collections so far. Sure, there are some stories...moreA 3.75 rounded up. I have to say that imho, this is the best of Ms. Datlow's Best Horror of the Year collections so far. Sure, there are some stories that didn't work for me, but that's to be expected in an anthology. Recommended for readers of horror who prefer to be frightened cerebrally rather than by gore splattered all over the pages.
My favorite in this book: "The House on Cobb Street", by Lynda E. Rucker. Listed below is the table of contents; I've given an overview at my reading journal's weird fiction/horror page so if you want the long version, feel free to click through.
“Apports” by Stephen Bacon “Mr. Splitfoot” by Dale Bailey “The Good Husband” by Nathan Ballingrud “The Tiger” by Nina Allan “The House on Cobb Street” by Lynda E. Rucker “The Soul in the Bell Jar” by K.J. Kabza “Call Out” by Stephen Toase “That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love” by Robert Shearman “Bones of Crow” by Ray Cluley “Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales” by Jeannine Hall Gailey “The Fox” by Conrad Williams “The Tin House” by Simon Clark “Stemming the Tide” by Simon Strantzas “The Anatomist’s Mnemonic” by Priya Sharma “The Monster Makers” by Steve Rasnic Tem “The Only Ending We Have” by Kim Newman “The Dog’s Paw” by Derek Künsken “Fine in the Fire” by Lee Thomas “Majorlena” by Jane Jakeman “The Withering” by Tim Casson “Down to a Sunless Sea” by Neil Gaiman “Jaws of Saturn” by Laird Barron “Halfway Home” by Linda Nagata and “The Same Deep Waters as You” by Brian Hodge(less)
I'll give this one 3.8 stars -- definitely better than its predecessor, although still not without its flaws. All in all, though, a fun read and now I...moreI'll give this one 3.8 stars -- definitely better than its predecessor, although still not without its flaws. All in all, though, a fun read and now I'm stoked for the next installment if it ever gets here.
Building on the events both in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and in Curran's previous novel in this series The Hive, The Spawning opens once again during the long, dark Antarctic winter. It seems that in the meantime, what happened at Kharkov Station some years earlier has become fodder for conspiracy theorists, since the powers that be have covered up and put their own collective spins on the truth. Unlike my experience while reading Hive, which was a little slow for me, I couldn't put this one down. It's weird (in the weird-fiction sense of the term), coolishly pulpy, and this time my tension level remained on high throughout most of the novel. If you haven't read At the Mountains of Madness or The Hive, it's okay -- better if you have but The Spawning fills you in on the backstory enough so that you don't feel like you've missed too much.
With a prologue that's bound to get your rapt attention as twenty-five British scientists disappear from Mount Hobb station, it doesn't take long until you're in the middle of a lot of gut-twisting action, beginning at US/NSF station Polar Clime. It starts when a helicopter crashes from nearby Colony Station, a top secret, hush-hush area "with armed guards and motion detectors," like "Area 51 or something" where "they had to keep people away." Teams from Polar Clime are sent to the crash site, and right away one of the men, Slim, notices something odd about the crash itself. Trying to extricate bodies from the wreckage, Slim happens to see something under a tarp, which right away, his friend Coyle realizes is "more than just a charred body...Something bad." It isn't long until the "spooks" from Colony Station appear; their leader, Dayton orders the Polar Clime teams to leave. Coyle realizes something's off -- and not just with the crash. As he notes:
"The whole scenario was spooky and strange. First Mount Hobb and then this crash and now Dayton with his James Bond shit."
But "spooky and strange" will turn out to be an understatement. After returning to Polar Clime, Coyle decides he'll join some of the others in viewing a live NASA feed of the historic landing of the Cassini 3 spacecraft as it lands on Jupiter's moon Callisto. As they're watching, the craft's camera records "a series of interconnected megaliths" that will set off a chain of events that will eventually affect the entire world as we know it. Add to this horrific occasion a number of strange doings at the NOAA Field Lab Polaris and Emperor Ice Station on the Beardmore Glacier, and it will be all Coyle and his companions can do to maintain their sanity and stay alive in the process.
The tension builds from the novel's beginning and rarely lets up. The chapters are short, the action moves around from place to place but never lingers too long in one spot, keeping the reader hooked. Once again, as in Hive, Curran builds on the work of Lovecraft without copying his tone or style, letting his own writer voice come through. Thematically, one of the main themes reveals that in their zeal to maintain secrecy, the government and other powers that be keep too many secrets and ignore lessons from the past that probably should have been heeded -- in this case, to the detriment of the world's population. Once again though the characters seem a little bit too pat, often bordering on stereotypical; the whole us vs. them (the common man vs. the government and the scientists) is also very obvious. Also, while the story moves along at a good pace, Curran sometimes spends a little too much time with his characters pondering what all of this means. However, I enjoyed The Spawning much more than its predecessor -- and the cliffhanger ending left me wanting much more. So come on, Tim Curran -- it's been four years already -- time for the next installment! (less)