Nick Cutter’s (one of Craig Davidson’s pen names) The Troop, from the very first paragraphs:
EAT EAT EAT EAT
The boat skipped over the waves, the drone of its motor trailing across the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. The moon was a bone fishhook in the clear October sky.
The man was wet from the spray that kicked over the gunwale. The outline of his body was visible under his drenched clothes. He could have easily been mistaken for a scarecrow left carelessly unattended in a farmer’s field, stuffing torn out by scavenging animals.
He’d stolen the boat from a dock at North Point, at the furthest tip of Prince Edward Island, reaching the dock in a truck he’d hotwired in a diner parking lot.
feels like the writing of a frustrated screenwriter. My suspicions confirmed as I continued to read. This book once was a screenplay or it’s author ultimately wrote it so that one day it would be a movie.
The introduction, the interstitial segments, the ending it all screams B-tier Hollywood horror film. The book’s epilogue is might as well be a post-credit bonus scene. In the context of the story it doesn’t make any sense but it does set up a potential sequel and is a well-worn horror movie trope. I will be very surprised if the book is not adapted to the screen, big or small. (I began writing this post before searching for anything. A quick search and sure enough an adaptation of the book is being produced by James Wan and directed by E. L. Katz.)
The horror genre, written and cinematic, is full of tropes. That isn’t bad, quick short-cuts that allow the story to skip along at a brisk pace. I don’t always need to know an elaborate backstory to a character. Sometimes it is enough to know that she is the “Final Girl.” But, tropes make more sense in a movie where production costs and standard film lengths constrain the artist. The book has no such constraints, and it makes sense in this medium to spend some effort on creating a more fully realized setting and characters.
Alas, Cutter doesn’t do that in The Troop. His prose is sparse unless he is describing the body horror that is central to the conceit of the book. Then, the words flow and the page fills with paragraphs of details that read more like scene setting and camera direction than they do prose.
I’ve not read much contemporary horror in American Fiction. I wonder how much of it Cutter is mirroring in his book?
For this entire month my favorite video game podcast, On the Stick, has been covering horror games, or games that have horrifying elements. I was flattered to be asked and happy to contribute this year. I did two pieces, one on The Beast Within: a Gabriel Knight Mystery and another on Phantasmagoria both by Sierra On-line. There are a lot of other great games written up by a lot of great writers, some of whom I’m lucky enough to call friends!
Also, an apology for not having a more substantial post today. California’s budgetary issues got in the way of me writing on the Internet. I hope everyone has a wonderful Fourth of July holiday (for those of you in the United States). Everyone else, hope you have a good weekend.
How many weeks are in April anyway? Five! Man, good thing I have a seemingly endless supply of books here. Before we talk about the four books being given away next week let’s congratulate the winners: Luana, Adam, and Nicolas! I’ll be getting in touch with all three of you to get these books out to you!
Glen Cook’s Dark War trilogy tells the story of a young primitive meth named Marika whose life is unalterably changed when barbarians out of the north destroy her village. This sets her on a path that will lead her into the stars. It also shapes the fate of her race and their planet.
“Caution was the strongest lesson Marika had learned. Absolute, total caution. Absolute total distrust of all who pretended friendship. She was an island, alone, at war with the world because the world was at war with her.”
Originally published in the ’80s separately, Darkwar combines the Marika stories into a single book. The meth are a cat-like people with a strict hierarchical society in which males are subservient to females and all meth are subservient to the Silth, a sorority of mystic, magic-wielding meth who control the planet. Marika, after the destruction of her homestead and her worldview, finds herself a Silth novitiate just as the order of things on her planet begin to come undone, and she is drawn into the center of that change.
Combining fantasy and science fiction in this trilogy, Cook is a master at work. His books are always enjoyable while requiring the reader to think. Darkwar raises such diverse topics as gender roles in society and how the meeting of two alien races might have drastic impacts on the cultures of each race.
The God Engines by John Scalzi
John Scalzi isn’t the more recognized name in science fiction, despite having won awards in the field and having his first novel nominated for the Hugo. Despite this he’s quietly built up an impressive body of hard science fiction. Scalzi abandons this fertile and familiar turf in his latest piece of work, the novella The God Engines, an intriguing work of fantasy that somehow manages to center around interstellar travel, holy wars, and the role of the individual in society. Scalzi somehow manages in a mere 136 pages to create believable, likeable characters who exist in a world that, while fantastic (spaceships travel by dominating captured deities and forcing them to move them through the stars), is both wonderful and convincing. I have only two complaints with the book: it ends far too soon and the conclusion is rushed as if Scalzi forced an ending on a story that needed several more pages to it. In the future I hope Scalzi takes another stab at fantasy, one that lasts a little longer…
The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro (review by Theresa Lucas)
A Boeing 777 lands at JFK International Airport and immediately shuts down. All communication is cut off, and when the first responders arrive, they find the plane sitting quietly, completely dark, with all the shades pulled down and the doors pulled so tightly they cannot be opened. Just as the rescue crew gets ready to cut into the plane, the door quietly opens, and the horror begins. Almost all the passengers onboard are dead, sitting in their seats with no visible signs of struggle or panic. And in the cargo hold, a very large coffin filled with dirt is discovered. The Center for Disease Control is called in to investigate, but the virus they find is more deadly and ancient than anything they could have imagined. Strange alliances form as it becomes clear that the people on the plane aren’t staying dead, and vampires are real. From the imaginations of Guillermo Del Toro, the director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth and author Chuck Hogan, The Strain is a good old-fashioned horror novel that reminds us vampires really are monsters – not the emotionally tortured souls of paranormal romance novels. The Strain is a very satisfying read that will quench your thirst for a well-crafted, suspenseful book.
Lastly, we have Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow
Sharp Teeth is an epic poem about werewolves in modern day Los Angeles. This book is actually more awesome than it sounds, and if it doesn’t sound awesome to you, you need to re-evaluate your literary standards. Epic, gritty, fast-paced and surprising. Barlow stretches both his subject and poetry in this inventive piece of fiction.
Sorry, I don’t have a longer review of Sharp Teeth, I never reviewed the book when I originally picked it up. It has been a couple of years at least since I read it last and I don’t think I could do it justice by winging it from memory. If I had to pick one book out of the four it’d be Sharp Teeth, it’s just so much more interesting than the other three.
You know the rules by now. Leave a comment below and you’ll be entered to win one of these books next Friday.