KRAKEN WAKES by
JOHN WYNDHAM, c.1953.
As in The Day of the Triffids, it starts
with an anomaly in the night sky. But, unlike Wyndham's debut
novel, nobody goes blind. In fact, the fireballs in his second
book seem so innocuous that, after a month or so, people
explain them away and ignore them. They are falling into
the ocean with no apparent harm, after all. Observers notice
that they descend at only the deepest parts of Earth's oceans.
A bathyscope is dispatched. Concern re-emerges when the lowering
cable comes back up as “a blob of fused metal” (The John Wyndham
Omnibus, second edition, Michael Joseph Ltd UK, c.1969,
Let the fun—and horror —begin.
Again, Wyndham mixes shudders with whimsical snorts
as page-turning commences in earnest. After America very
predicatively and to no avail drop hydrogen bombs down on
these outer space leviathans—remember, this
was written in 1953, a significant year in the Cold War
as we executed the Rosenbergs for selling the atomic bomb
to the Commies—they
retaliate by sinking every ship within their reach, then sending “sea-tanks” (p.304)
to grab humans off islands. These attacks are somewhat contained,
but, the ironic reversal of fortune is best illustrated when
one characters says, it's “as if they were sort of—shrimping
for us” (p.310).
But the real terror—and mankind's comeuppance—is when
they start heating the seas and the oceans rise, and rise,
There is discussion on whether or not we can share
the planet with another intelligent species. Subtextually,
fill in whales or dolphins, but, more importantly to contemporary
times, these actions and the Cold War parallels trigger our
very real ecological trepidations. And when the Big Apple's
cityscape looks like half-submerged “tombstones” (p.369),
the disgruntled complaining about living in the “Age of the
Ostensible Reason” (p.322) turns into the hysterics of “we
never did anything to deserve all this” (p.373). At this point,
Wyndham grudgingly plots a course to safety, but not before
he gives us the solution to all our problems:
“It's going to be a very strange sort of world, with only
a fifth or an eighth of us left,” I said, meditatively.
“There were only five million or so of us in the first
Elizabeth's time—but we counted,” she said .
Amen, eh, Dr. Strangelove?
JACK KETCHUM, c.2003.
Ketchum is a writer not to read if you've got a proclivity
to bile blow when confronted with images like: “the top of
his head was sawn away just above the eyebrows and it was into
this cavity, empty now but for rainwater, that the men were
pitching their stones.” (Cemetery Dance, ISBN 1587670674,
c.2003, p.92). That's one reason this novella
is small-press published to 1500 copies and is only 100 pages
in length. Another is its Western format, whereas Jack's
much better known for Horror. But, make no mistake; this
is not a realistic oater like Blood Meridian or
the Rogue Blood. This is SplatterPunk wearing
The plot is your typical feed bag of historic Arizona
hyperbole seasoned with modern-day excesses and absurdities.
It's 1848 and a besotted reporter named Marion T. Bell—our
1st person protagonist—witnesses a saloon cardgame gunfight
where both pistols mis-fire, leaving the loser burned not
shot, and Bell hooking up with a couple of vatos to go break
Mexican mustangs to sell to the upcoming Gold Rushers crossing
the Colorado. However, the lawfully-intentioned trio rope
in a coupla beat-to-shit young girls—one almost dead, the
other there—that buckle down
the direction and morality of this tale. Elena wants to rescue
her still-captive sister from the savage Valenzura Sisters
and their gang of murderers/rapists/sadists/pagan zealots.
It's pretty much Death
Wish among the tumbleweeds from here on.
Leone/Eastwood fans will enjoy the carnage, but not the motivations.
Our trio of heroes are not psychopaths chewing up the greed
carrot. In the names of Family, Loyalty, Honor, and Decency,
led by a horribly-maimed, barely-civilized Mexica teener
with the bearing of a coyote bred with rattlesnake, our revengers
ride into the slave/concentration camp and sadomasochistic
brothel that Bell describes as “straight out of Dante's Inferno ” (p.63).
Slaughtering every living thing there—and losing two of their
numbers in the process—seems to set right the pain and suffering
and wrongness in among the suffering of the righteous.
J. C. Hart (didn't miss the allusions with “J.C.” and “Hart”,
did ya?), dying, says, “there's nothing I'd have wished to
do differently” (p.97). Elena eulogizes him with, “Let your
light so shine before men, that they may see your good works,
and glorify your father which is in heaven” (p.100).
Ever doubt that Horror is a thinly-disguised apologue?
Yet there is a familiar genre conceit missing here.
It circles the wagons, but never manages to put out the campfire.
In the grisly scene where the 3 crone sisters inflict the
self-removal of a still-beating heart from their victim as
sacrifice to Tezcatlipoca, there is really no supernatural
element responsible. Such a ponderance would merely get in
the way of the slaughter for Jack here. And the closest thing
to revelation comes when Bell declares “that war was insanity,” and
that what he “did not know what the exact nature of how that
insanity was made manifest in a single soul” (p.77). He then
likens his killing of a human being to “a cat lashing out
after a mouse” (p.78).
Substitute “denial” for “insanity” and see if you
can justify all that gut-shot prose and porn-torture imagery.
And don't forget the chicken-fucking scene (p.74).
SHERI S. TEPPER, c.2003.
on the newly-discovered planet Moss, there's heavy scrutiny
using the guidelines of the Exploration and Survey Corps
and Planetary Protection Institute, mainly to determine if
indigenous, sentient life exists. This will set Earth's exploitation
level depending upon the advancement of any existing civilization.
The planet's a total banquet and the greedsters are rubbing
their monetary mandibles together in anticipation. Problem
is, everybody who has surveyed Moss sees apparitions like
dancing flames that “seem to be hallucinogenic happenings,
light and motion flung together by wind and imagination.” These “ecological
animations” (EOS, ISBN
p.3) do not fit any known category, but,
what's worse, recording instruments fail to acknowledge their
presence, therefore Moss is about to be ruled uninhabited by
Let the chewing begin.
But after that fascinating tickler of an opening chapter,
Ms. Tepper jumps back to overpopulated, anxious Earth to plot
the battle between the pro-chewers and the con-chewers, introducing
the heroine, Jewel Delis amid her restrictive and somewhat-twisted
society in both macro- and microcosm.
It's lookin' like a clear case of TMI, TMI.
Yeah, the concs are a salacious kick. These “special friends” are
future's animated blow-up dolls, the “companions” of the title,
maybe. Overindulged and jaded, the wealthy even collect them
into harems for their countryside “exempt estates” (p.24) that
rim the overcrowded “urbs” where millions live crammed in apartment
hi-rises. So the masses don't become mobs, separation conventions
designate individual space with painted grids, flow arrows,
and section marks in public. Robes and veils for anonymity
forestall the animosity of affiliations. “They're the walls
between survival and chaos” (p.13).
And now a Glen Beck type has declared that Earth's
pets—eat too much food and suck too much air and need to be
So now Jewel's gonna get in harm's way.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention Jewel's got a husband
from a whimsy marriage who's disappeared, a mother-in-law
who's a gentrified, old-money bitch, and a curiously-twisted
brother who's flown all over the galaxy ‘cause he's a highly-demanded
linguist. Then there's the fact that Jewel's an “arkist”—a
radical group who's seeding planets with animals and happen
to own Moss' moon, which they're using as a sort of canine
Since The Companions opened on Moss, that's
where it's headed, of course, with all the new introductions,
including an outpost of Deracs—brutish bi-ped 'gators like
Mangalores from The Fifth Element —another super-race
who are galactic gameplayers called the Orskim, yet even
more mongo-races who show up later called Zhaar or Phaina,
who want to confuse things even more by solving the problems.
Oh yeah, and the dogs, who can communicate, kinda.
On Moss, there's even more indigenous confusion. Apparantly,
a spaceship from the Hessing clan—remember Jewel's M-in-L?
She holds their cloth—crashed, and the survivors fought among
themselves then split, and are now semi-warring around an inter-dimensional
gateway to Tsaliphor or maybe that was Splendor. Plus, there's
the aurora borealis beings that turn out to be sentient vegetable
matter that are also psychically hooked to some hive-mind that's
the planet Moss. A lolloping copse of trees can turn out to
be a “willog”, or, in the case of self-named Walking Sunshine,
a talking bunch of trees. There's Moss Demons that
can transform things, too, but don't ask me how, ‘cause about
this time the deus ex machina madness had turned
my mind to blubber. I think it all turns out happy in the end.
Author Tepper appears to be a writing maniac. With
so much work, things are bound to get sloppy. The Companions feels
like scripting-as-you-go. It gets strained with too many soap
opera complexities that string out, but not necessarily together
or with any perceived purpose. That's not to say this isn't
a fun read. It's wild; it's just not very inspirational. I
especially like the diatribe about how humans are mere slaves
to their pet animals, who are, possibly, vessels for more
intelligent races. And, yeah, I get the bonding-with-animals
concern. I just think this book needs to go to the groomers
for a summer shave.
But I'll try Tepper again. I mean, man, she's bursting.
A review of Tepper's 1989 Grass can be found here.
OF THE FLIES by
WILLIAM GOLDING, c.1954.
What can I say about a novel so entrenched into the
Olympus of English Literature? And written by a Nobel
laureate to boot? Nothing new, I can guarantee you that. In
its rapid disintegration of propriety it becomes the reverse
barometer of ordered civilization. As such, it is a petri
dish for the primitive archetypes to grow and be recognized.
It constantly reminds us of how frail our grip on sanity, decorum,
and reason actually is.
The sow's head on the pike is the ultimate icon of this breakdown,
but, for me, the most terrifying realization in the book comes
when Ralph spies his pursuer brandishing his stick weapon with both ends
carved to sharp points.
This is an example that, although the story is now pretty
old and worn, the imagery is still as vivid as Jack's painted
face, or the iridescent beauty of the conch shell destroyed “into
a thousand white fragments” (Penquin PB, ISBN 0399501487, c.1954
p.181). It examples the genius needed to genuinely
wed the visual to the symbolic.
I admit, there's too much noir in me to be
comfortable with the all-of-a-sudden rescue in conclusion.
But—I gotta admit —the billowing parachute of the
Lord of the Flies is something I never, ever wanna come across
in the woods alone.
MELANIE TEM, c.1995.
I need to give this novel another chance. Its
reading was interrupted by many outside, unrelated events, and,
as a result, Desmodus went into hibernation at page
183 out of 351. It is an intriguing, left-field take on the vampire
mythos, told from the inside of their coven. All the characters
are vampires, driven and ordered by instincts and genetic coding
unfamiliar to modern students of blood-sucking lore. It is severely
matriarchal in hierarchy, as the males are "weak, childlike,
unreliable" and need "protection, caretaking, and structure.
It was women upon whom the community depended" (Dell PB,
ISBN 0440215048, c.1995, p.47). Once a year, the females go into
what they refer to as “near-death” (p.86) and have to be transported
from one secure location to another in “hibernaculums” (p.128),
which are basically Mack 18-wheelers pulling special refer units
in a giant convoy. Like the popular True Blood books
and HBO series, these gypsy-like neckbiters have found a way
to exist without slaughtering us, hence they move undetected
through our world.
But this migration is being run by the capricious males; most
of which are docile, yet rimmed by muttonheads on one end and
out-and-out barn dogs on the other. Our 1st person protagonist
is young at 50 years old and at about the Jr. High level in social
and mental sophistication.
Is there gonna be trouble where the dudes prove their worth
and the gals hafta re-think their scorn of them? Or maybe Ms.
Tem is so far in the feminist trenches she'll bury the boys even
I know. A pretty daffy setup. But, at this turn, I'll read anything that's
a stake and mallet away from the Twilight viewpoint.
RICHARD ADAMS, c.1972.
There are few books that resonate inside you long after they're
read. Watership Down is one of them. Months after,
I'm still greeting the cottontails I scare up in the desert with, “Hi
Hazel, Hi Fiver. What's shakin', Bigwig.” These lapin characters
seem as real to me as any fictional humans I've ever experienced
this side of Dostoyevsky and Dickens.
In 1972, this was not really a children's book, although
it was born out of Storytime for author Adams' children. The
adventures of some rabbits questing a new burrow and their
subsequent battle for survival was resoundingly adult-themed,
as the violent encounters were not sugar-coated nor was the
instinct for procreation downplayed. How could this juvenile
package possibly appeal to a modern, sophisticated audience?
Its publishing saga is legend. Rejected by more than
a dozen publishers, it was small pressed to overwhelming response
at the hop of millions of copies. The rest, as they say, is
carrots. It is curious that nothing—other than Adams' subsequent works—has
come close to this anthropomorphic brilliance, although blatantly-didactic,
socio-political allegories abound from Orwell's Animal Farm from
1945 to the graphic novel, Pride of Baghdad of 2003.
BTW, Jonathan Livingston Seagull fans are
encouraged to take offense, along with those who must dig at
the lack of female role-models by considering the does
simple baby-making, Playboy bunnies. Gee, I've never
heard the term “ball
like bunnies”, have you? Besides, if Watership
Down is allegory—I
mean stretching beyond the epic motifs of Antiquity literature—then
so is I Love Lucy.
Addendum: Brian Jacques' death
on Feb. 5, 2011 inadvertently reminded me of his Redwall series
started in 1986 concerning the adventures of a roguish bunch
of varmints. I have not read his work, but it was admired by
noteworthy people and should be, at least, considered in this
Addendum #2: Here's a contender—Laline Paull, The Bees, c.2014.
"The buzz you will hear surrounding this book and its astonishing author is utterly deserved."—NY Times Sunday Book Review.
02/05/2010 by Larry Crawford