this is a big, meaty slice of steaming cthulhu-horror goodness. somewhere near the sargasso sea, a sinister fog envelopes a ship, its crew, and an often ostentatiously manly group of contractors... and deposits them in some horrible other-dimension. this new world is just that: "new" in the sense of a world that is pretty much a primal soup of creeping crawling flapping flying swimming life, almost completely fog-shroud, land nowhere in sight.
"He likened that sea to a petri dish, warm and wet and clogged with organic profusion, a metabolic medium, a fluidic slush of life and death and potential."
potential, indeed! the survivors of the soon-to-be-sinking ship are confronted with a host of typical denizens of a fetid Cambrian (and i suppose pre-Cambrian) world. that equals danger. the survivors also have to deal with each other, which is basically no problem, except for one seriously demented, paranoid, knife-happy asshole who suffers from an increasingly grotesque infection. that equals more danger. then there are the assorted horrid and often soul-sucking supernatural and alien presences, perhaps likewise trapped in this dimension, often making their homes in the various stranded wrecks littering this evil-soup planet. that equals danger times 1,000. and then of course there is the cthulhic deity that also calls this place home, comfortable with manipulating minds from afar but also happy to breathe nuclear chaos on any unfortunates in its path. that equals danger times infinity!
the novel is all of a piece. it is all wall-to-wall horror, men stuck with each other on a foreign and hostile world, being picked off one by one, basically trapped in a dimension of terror that feels like the biggest, swampiest haunted house of them all. Dead Sea does not let up. although there are moments of more gentle emotions as various men briefly flash back to their normal lives, and occasionally bond with each other, there is a distinct lack of sentimentality and corniness. there are many lengthy sequences where the men are just sitting in their various boats and are basically shell-shocked by their situation... these frequent bits skirted monotony, but were also essential to the plot and atmosphere. when the horrors do arrive - which is fairly regularly - they come fast and furious, grisly and literally gut-wrenching. the creativity in differentiating the horrors from each other is impressive... Curran's imagination is as bizarre, monstrous, and full of disgustingly primal life as the "dead" sea itself.
also, i was scared. i'm not usually scared by too many horror novels. maybe i'm jaded or maybe i'm just unimaginative or maybe the horrors of real life are enough to scare me. who knows. but Dead Sea was unusual for me in that it was a genuinely scary experience. kudos!
the main flaw of the novel is a certain tendency towards overwriting. nowhere near enough for me to sneer at, and a lot of it is clearly in homage to Lovecraft's signature purple prose. the main offense, and boy does it happen often, is Curran's annoying tendency to try to create some kind of effect by isolating a trying-to-be-impactful sentence.
you know, like this.
see, i'm making a point here.
it gets a little obvious at times.
anyway, that caveat aside, this is great stuff if you love horror. it may lack the resonance of classier and/or more transcendent pieces of horror fiction... but it really delivers when it comes to setting up an atmosphere filled with dread and fear, and then following through with shuddery, visceral, no-brakes horror.
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