The Hive is a drab attempt at an update of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness." While occasionally successful in his use of atmosphere, Curran iThe Hive is a drab attempt at an update of Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness." While occasionally successful in his use of atmosphere, Curran is unable to rise above his source material and we are left with an unnecessary retread. The concept and general plot of the book is actually quite interesting, but unfortunately, the execution is botched to such an extent that the novel becomes a chore to finish.
In the opening pages of the book, we are introduced to a variety of characters wintering over at Kharkov Station in Antartica; including researcher Gates, mechanic Hayes, camp doctor Sharkey and administrator LaHune. The novel has an unexpectedly large cast for its claustrophobic setting, but most of the minor characters are bland roughneck or scientist stereotypes, distinguishable only by the manner of their inevitable deaths. The major characters are reasonably well-drawn, but again fall disappointingly into archetypes: headstrong hero (Hayes), obstructive bureucrat (LaHune), and most problematically, female love interest (Sharkey.)
Driven scientist Gates and his team have discovered a trio of remarkably abnormal corpses frozen in the ice, and insist upon hauling the loathsome things back into camp, which ends up about as well as one would expect. The bizarre mummies are in fact Old Ones, adn while their physical forms are deceased, their malevolent spirits are anything but. We are then witness to a plague of madness and inexplicable phenomena which befalls the camp. As I mentioned earlier, the plotting is this novel's strong suit, but even that falls prey to this work's greatest flaw: its annoyingly insistent repetition. The desolation and cold of the Antarctic are described again and again in the text, often using the exact same phrasing multiple times! Characters expound to one another on the nature and abilities of the Old Ones, frequently falling into trances and reciting as though from a textbook, which is coincidentally the effect on the reader as well. I simply cannot stress enough how damaging this mind-numbing repetition is to the flow of the narrative. It is very nearly ruinous.
There are, however, numerous sections of the novel that transcend their dull surroundings to become effective pieces of horror fiction. These passages - including Dr. Gates's ill-fated expedition to the wild Medusa range, the exploration of ice-bound Lake Vordog, and two "interludes" to earlier Antarctic missions - are relatively free of the info-dumping and regurgitation which characterize the rest of the novel, which is only to their benefit. I believe these sections could have been extracted from the novel and, with a modicum of recontextualization, been presented as independent short pieces, and been much stronger efforts.
Thankfully, Curran does not attempt to ape Lovecraft's style too closely (I only spotted one usage of "eldritch"!), which lifts this novel above the level of pastiche. Although Curran has a casically transparent style and avoids pyrotechnic displays of language, he manages to convey the claustrophobia and dread of an Antarctic winter quite effectively near the beginning of the work, which makes his later stylistic choices all the more baffling and disappointing.
Overall, The Hive was an unpleasant read, and one I'd be very hesitant to recommend to any but the most devout Lovecraft followers. Even they would probably have a better time re-reading "At the Mountains of Madness."...more
This was my first experience with Malfi, and I must say I’m rather pleased. I picked up this book after reading his free short, “The Boy in the Lot”,This was my first experience with Malfi, and I must say I’m rather pleased. I picked up this book after reading his free short, “The Boy in the Lot”, which serves a prequel to The Narrows, and was just vague and intriguing enough to pique my interest.
So this is a vampire story. OMG SPOILERS! Yeah, that’s not really a spoiler to anyone who’s read anything about vampires before. However, I’m pleased to say that Malfi has taken the theme and created something new, and very creepy, with it. The vampires in this novel are entirely different from any I’ve read about before, and this approach is very welcome.
The novel takes place in the small town of Stillwater, Maryland, a slowly decaying village situated in the foothills. I really enjoyed Malfi’s depiction of the town, as while the setting is quite specific, it really could have been anywhere. We’ve all been to places like this: little towns away from the mainstream, cut off, disregarded, or otherwise left to die. These places are everywhere; bleak evidence of our forgetful society.
Our story begins by following two young boys as they leave their elementary school and go in search of a dead deer carcass in the forest. This small bit of characterization really struck a chord with me, as that’s just such a little boy thing to do, isn’t it? Little details like this can really sell (or alienate, if used improperly) the readers on your characters, and Malfi handles this very well. We follow our two young heroes as they approach the abandoned plastics factory on the edge of town, and one witnesses something strange within.
After the first chapter, Malfi switches to a multiple viewpoint, revolving among many of the citizens of Stillwater, some good, some bad, all real. The main character is Ben, a police officer who ended up settling in the town after the deaths of his parents despite his ambitions to do more with his life. This is another character type we should all be familiar with by now, the dutiful son who stays behind for the sake of his family, disregarding his own hopes and dreams in the process. However, Malfi’s deftly sympathetic portrayal of Ben sets the character apart from what has come to be a familiar trope.
The action in the novel is more of a slow burn. The eerie events and disappearances that plague Stillwater after the intrusion of the Other build one upon another, ratcheting up the tension inexorably. The pace of the novel picks up noticeably toward the end as our remaining characters slowly realize the situation they’ve found themselves in and take steps to stop it.
I don’t think I’d be wrong to draw a comparison with Salem’s Lot here. Both stories feature a small town fragmenting and falling apart after the appearance of a mysterious entity. I would argue that The Narrows is actually the superior work, however, as Malfi’s prose has a lyrical empathy that King (at that point, at least) lacked. It’s an extraordinarily well-drawn and readable world, one I was engrossed with nearly from the first page.
However, there was an unfortunate incident near the end of the novel that turned me off somewhat, and I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. The passage in question contains a certain culturally insensitive term that really hit a wrong note with me. I don’t really want to focus on this too much, as the book is otherwise superlative, but nevertheless, the word is there.
In closing, I’d highly recommend this work. If you’re at all interested in vampires, or even stories about dying small towns, then definitely pick this one up....more
Datlow has returned with her annual collection, and as usual, those who share similar tastes will be pleased. I personally don't feel this volume wasDatlow has returned with her annual collection, and as usual, those who share similar tastes will be pleased. I personally don't feel this volume was as strong as the two previous, but there are several very strong tales here that literary horror fans shouldn't miss. There's quite a bit of overlap with Stephen Jones's Mammoth book this year, which is unfortunate. I'll do a brief rundown of each story herein:
"At the Riding School" by Cody Goodfellow: I felt this was a weak beginning to the collection, with a rather predictable plot involving an exclusive school for girls. However, the characterization was strong.
"Mr. Pigsny" by Reggie Oliver: Much more to my taste than the previous, "Mr. Pigsny" is a classical weird tale after the style of M.R. James or Robert Aickman, but with gangsters (!). This should come as no surprise to readers of Oliver's posthumous collaboration with James, "The Game of Bear." Recommended.
"City of the Dog" by John Langan: Langan continues to impress me with this long work involving (depending on your interpretation) Lovecraftian ghouls or lycanthropes and a young man's jealousy and sorrow over a failing relationship. Langan has a strong prose style and a keen eye for detail and nuance. Highly recommended.
"Just Outside Our Window, Deep Inside Our Walls" by Brian Hodge: This one has received quite a few accolades, but I must admit I don't entirely agree. Although I usually enjoy Hodge's work, this one struck me as a bit lightweight. Focusing on the friendship between an isolated boy and the girl next door, the two bond and soon find a novel solution to their separate- and shared- problems. Not a bad story by any means, but not quite up to Hodge's normally very high standard..
"Lesser Demons" by Norman Partridge: This is an action-packed post-apocalyptic tale with a grim protagonist and a bloody, no-holds-barred style that reminds me a bit of Joe R. Lansdale. Rarefied company, to be sure.
"When the Zombies Win" by Karina Summer-Smith: Sumner-Smith tells us what happens after the zombie apocalypse. It's pretty much as tragic and altogether pointless as you'd expect. I'm not generally a fan of zombie tales, so others may appreciate this one a bit more.
"--30--" by Laird Barron: The absolute high point of the collection. Barron's voice has only grown stronger as time passes, and this story is possibly his most accomplished work to date. A tale of a broken relationship, isolation, and possible supernatural occurrences in the high desert. This is a marvel, and every dark fiction reader owes it to themselves to witness it firsthand.
"Fallen Boys" by Mark Morris: I've been a fan of Morris since reading The Immaculate in 1996 or thereabouts, and this tale does not disappoint. It follows a school field trip to an abandoned mine, and some of the lore of said mine. The prose has a very dreamlike and mysterious quality which should be familiar to those versed in Morris's work.
"Was She Wicked? Was She Good?" by M. Rickert: An unusual and disturbing story about the stress of parenting, childhood cruelty (or possibly something deeper, and darker) and the Fair Folk. Fantastically evocative prose, with one of the best opening lines I've read in years.
"The Fear" by Richard Harland: A group of film fans investigates a famed director-turned-hermit's lost work from the 60s. Goes off the rails a bit at the end, but the subject matter of lost, strange cinema is fascinating.
"Till the Morning Comes" by Stephen Graham Jones: This rather nostalgic and sentimental tale manages to be both bleak and life-affirming. It sounds contradictory, but somehow, it works.
"Shomer" by Glen Hirshberg: I've always found Hirshberg to be underwhelming, and this story is no exception. However, it did introduce me to the Jewish custom of Shomer, which I found to be very interesting, so it wasn't a total loss.
"Oh, I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside" by Christopher Fowler: An opaque tale of juvenile delinquency in a small English seaside town, and the bizarre characters who dwell there. The conclusion (the entire story, to be quite honest) is rather baffling, but Fowler's prose is a joy to read.
"The Obscure Bird" by Nicholas Royle: Royle delivers another cryptic tale of obsession and familial discord, this time focusing on owls. Yes, owls. The final passage is extraordinarily tense and frightening.
"Transfiguration" by Richard Christian Matheson: This is and unusual work for Matheson, in that it's more than two pages long. It's the sad tale of a psychopathic truck driver with a keen religious obsession, and the landscape he moves within. The northern Alaska setting is one not often explored in horror, and the landscape conveys a sense of isolation and bleak despair. A powerful work.
"The Days of Flaming Motorcycles" by Catherynne Valente: Another zombie story (Can this fad end now? Please?), although this one is saved by Valente's lovely prose and the unusual portrayal of the "zombies."
"The Folding Man" by Joe R. Lansdale: Lansdale always delivers, and this story of extremely creepy and unsettling nuns, and the pseudo-mechanical horror they unleash on a carload of pranksters, is a high point of this book. There is some truly gruesome and disturbing imagery found within this work.
"Just Another Desert Night With Blood" by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr: Prose poem about a maniac, or some such. Not to my taste at all.
"Black and White Sky" by Tanith Lee: A mysterious story about a plague of magpies that blankets Britain, and how people eventually come to live with it. Lee's work is always a joy to read, and while this is not my favorite of her stories, it is a pleasure.
"At Night, When the Demons Come" by Ray Cluley: Another tale of a demonic apocalypse, although this one is distinguished from "Lesser Demons" by it's unrelentingly grim tone and horrifyingly nihilistic conclusion. It's less about the external horrors that cause the end of civilization than it is about the profound darkness dwelling in the depths of every human heart.
"The Revel" by John Langan: It's rare for the same author to get two stories in the same Best-Of, but Langan was certainly deserving. As good as "City of the Dog" is, "The Revel" is better. While dealing with similar premises, the two stories differ in their approach. "The Revel" is nearly meta-fiction, with its cinematic language (even going so far as to describe camera angles) and direct implication of the reader as a willing accomplice in horror. Fantastic work here. If he keeps up with work of this quality, I really feel that Langan may be mention in the same breath as giants like King and Barker someday.