Wednesday, October 21, 2009

They Hunger by Scott Nicholson





I was lucky enough to obtain an advance readers copy of Scott Nicholson's sixth book They Hunger, due for release from Pinnacle books in April of this year.

'Write what you know' the old codgers advise burgeoning writers when they start along the literary path. Scott Nicholson certainly 'knows' the Southern Appalachian Mountains and soon his name (if it already isn't) will be part and parcel with them as King is to Maine. In They Hunger, the Unegama River and its serpentine rapids are the centre-piece for a group of characters that meet under sinister duress - the kind that hides in darkness and feeds off blood.

I know Scott has a lot of professional admiration for Dean Koontz and this is reflective (not in stylistic imitation), but in the way he brings incongruent characters together and shoves them into a god-awful situation. In They Hunger, we have religious zealot abortion-clinic bomber Ace Goodall who flees to the Unegama wilderness in an effort to escape his pursuers. (Think Ed Deepneau from King's Insomnia with a Charles Manson twist). Riding shotgun with him is Clara Bannister, a self-destructive, semi-believer in Ace Goodall gospel. The seekers on his trail to bring him to justice are two FBI agents: Jim Castle and Derek Samford, hardboiled types from a thousand Cop movies. Not too far away are an odd assortment banded together for a collective agenda: to test flight a kind of prototype white water raft for outdoor adventure conglomerate ProVentures.

Regrettably, it was these particular characters on the raft that made me a little uncomfortable with the whole thing: Bowie Whitlock, who leads the expedition, is making his 'final jaunt' so he can retire because he blames himself for his wife's death. Such a back story felt modestly clich├ęd, and reminded me of a corny Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger. Then there's the solitary female of the group, Dove Krueger, contracted to photograph the voyage and create coitus longings among the males. Rounding up the gang are a wrestling Indian Cherokee on a spiritual path; a ProVentures representative; bicycling champion C.A McKay and slippery, vulgar-mouthed reality show winner Vincent Farrengalli. Their bad timing and lack of coalition will inevitably see them run afoul of ancient creatures, released from their prehistoric underground hideaway after the FBI agents accidentally set off a trip wire bomb engineered by Ace Goodall.

One could argue about the cardboard characters or not, but I found They Hunger to be an expedition certainly worth taking. Like his previous book The Farm, Nicholson gives you a kind of comforting horror tale; you'll feel that the terrain is well-mapped and the gore, when it comes, brings an almost malign grin to your face. His flying vampires are old-school and at times They Hunger can be like taking a trip down memory-lane - one where horror movies were in their infancy stage but at the same time at their peak. Humour is also a large component, as the battle of wills and ego merge with that of survival. Like the river he takes you down, Scott Nicholson’s They Hunger is a fun roller-coaster ride and the journey is at times hair-raising. Here, Vampires come back to the forefront of the horror-novel, and Scott Nicholson ultimately does it in style.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Interzone




Science fiction blended with inter-species romance; this is the premise for Mercurio D Rivera's Looking for Langalana - a tale told through a protagonist on a witness stand. Shimera, a Wergen, tells her story to an emissary: the son of a human named Phinny she once loved. Although a little too quixotic, I enjoyed the tale. With strange mating rituals on the Wergen's part, descriptive language of their beguiling anatomies, and a pesky native of Langalana that cannot be tamed, it's a worthy opener. 

Haunting and lyrical, Tim Akers The Song is like a short poem for the soul. For me it speaks of metamorphosis, of transcendence. A gifted musician in a futuristic society where music is on the fringe, Jack has been struggling to capture a life's dream through music: the ultimate melody that plays like a discordant baritone, but one he finds impossible to capture with his current instrument and audience. Enlisting the help of a complicated creature, one that could ultimately give birth to The Song, Jack soon realizes the dream. 

A tale that inspires research: that's pretty much the best thing I can say about Martin J Gidron's Palestina. If you're unfamiliar with  Middle Eastern politics in the years after Hitler's death, then I doubt Palestina will hold much allure. Earning its place here on the merit of being alternate history, Girdon's message (if there is one) is obscure. Protagonist Palestina, a Jewish concentration camp inmate, is swept up in the intrigue of a Russian infiltrator and a Rabbi who is more than he appears.

Whilst boasting the most imaginative illustration in this story collection, The Rising Tide by Australia's C.A.L is a piece probably better suited to a novel. The opening is a treat. Tied with the art, it evokes a true ultramodern landscape:

Beneath the night-clad sky of a golden colonized globe, Raleigh Marsonnet walked the light-swept roads as any Free-born citizen might do ... 

After this (for me, at least) it kind of falls apart. That's not to say it's un-readable, but C.A.L has constructed a vast mythology, one hard to digest without repeat readings. In this future, The United Starion Republic will activate a weapon resulting in a rebellious world cut off. A code has gone missing, and Raleigh Marsonnet must return to the world and woman he betrayed.

Another story that would shine in novel length is Summers End by Jamie Barras. Jamie imagines a world where the whole population of earth wakes up simultaneously five months after a comatose period. Said period was caused by 'hijackers'; unknown entity's that decided to take up residence in humanity's collective skull. It's a scary scenario, as possession in the genre of sci-fi has always been hard to tackle. However, the story is not global, and primarily centers on a domestic issue. One gets the feeling Barras is not done with this universe.

Lastly, we have the winner of the James White award: A Short History Of The Dream Library by Elizabeth Hopkinson. This one's a gem: fiction packaged as neatly as the title suggests, and interspersed with laugh-out-load moments. Set in England, the tale of Milton Bissit and his addictive dream involving a 'Hindi speaking goblin' falls into the realm of classic. If Elizabeth continues to work, her name could potentially be used in the same sentence as Douglas Adams.