Mucho Mojo

August 8, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

mojoMucho Mojo by Joe R. Lansdale

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Want to feel old? If so, consider this: Mucho Mojo was published twenty-three years ago. Twenty-three. That’s about how long ago I started reading Joe Lansdale, and while I doubt this was my first foray into Lansdale’s fiction, it was my first ride with Hap and Leonard, upon which I’m still a passenger.

I decided to re-read this book for the same reason I re-read Savage Season: I just finished watching the latest season of Hap & Leonard, the television show, and I wanted to see how they compare. What I remember of my original read was that I pegged the murderer as soon as he appeared in the story. I remembered other details, some of which were at odds with what was on the show, but it turned out I was misremembering some of those details. I think I was remembering details the way I wanted them to be, not how they were.

The show and the book differ in a lot of ways, but the main plot is the same across both. Leonard’s uncle, Chester, has died, and after inheriting Chester’s house, Leonard stumbles across the body of a child. Suspicions drop on Chester as a child-killer, but Leonard doesn’t believe it, and the story is Leonard and Hap investigating the murder to find the real killer.

The rest of the details, though, are different: MeMaw’s sons are different between the show and the book; Leonard doesn’t get arrested in the book, and neither is Hap a suspect of the murders; and Beau’s character doesn’t even exist in the book, meaning that subplot was never a part of the story. Incredibly, both the book and the show accomplish their own thing, and both are moving stories with similar themes. In the end, the difference in the details isn’t significant enough to change what makes the story so effective.

Re-reading the book helped me put the book in a better perspective, too, since my initial rating (two stars) was based on how easily I figured out the whodunnit part of the story. Knowing that when I went into the book helped me better appreciate the rest of the story, which is one of race and class and all the social complications that come from it all. Hap and Leonard being who they are, all of the stories touch on that to some degree, but here it was much more pronounced. The show followed that same theme, but I raised my rating on the book a full two stars because I was able to see the forest this time around. Plus, who I was twenty-three years ago is pretty different from who I am now, which I’m sure played a part in my appreciation.

But, man, twenty-three years. That’s a long time. I was just barely into my twenties, and I think Lansdale’s hair was still dark when this book came out. Fans of the show should definitely read the book, too, though I recommend it to anyone who likes a crime story with a good theme.

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Riptide

June 29, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

riptideRiptide by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

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I first heard about the legend of Oak Island when I was nine or ten, and it’s been a low-level obsession since then, enough that I’m honestly surprised when I discover people who haven’t heard of it. It has pirates! Treasure! Booby-traps! And it’s been around for over 200 years! How have people not heard about it?

Riptide is a fictionalized account of that legend, and this isn’t my first time reading the book. That would have been fourteen years ago, during a vacation at the beach. To say I loved the book is an understatement; combining the legend with being at the beach and tearing through the book in a day or two meant I loved the book. Preston and Child did a great job of translating the story into a ripping read, so when I needed an audiobook for a long road trip, Riptide was at the top of the list.

Of course, combining a re-read with an audiobook means I’m more likely to see the foibles of the story, like the paper-thin characters, the overuse of adverbs, and the story telling more than showing. There are also the technical elements of the story that I questioned (does earth really slow radiation like the authors claim? Would a doctor really not be able to identify radiation poisoning based on so much evidence?), but I still enjoyed the hell out of the story. My affection for the legend of Oak Island apparently knows no bounds (I’m also watching The Curse of Oak Island on the History Channel, though I’m behind on it).

Look: If you haven’t heard of the legend of Oak Island, you should research it. There’s a good article located here, though you could run a Google search on “Oak Island money pit” and find a ton of other resources. If that kind of story intrigues you, you should read Riptide. It’s not a perfect work, but it’s damn good, despite its issues.

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Coraline

July 25, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

coralinesCoraline by Neil Gaiman

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Coraline is one of my favorite books. I’m an unabashed fan of Neil Gaiman, so it’s hard to be objective about his work in general, but Coraline has remained a favorite of mine since I first read it. The story is a remarkably well-done horror tale (spookier than a lot of adult horror, even), which goes a long way toward me liking it, but the fact that I listened to this as an audiobook shortly after reading it for the first time didn’t hurt, either.

Gaiman is wonderful as a speaker in general, but when he reads his stories, he’s even better. He knows the story and the characters, and he knows better than anyone else how the story should flow, where the emphasis belongs, how the characters speak, and what the proper pace is to keep the listener engaged. I think there’s more to it than just that familiarity — I’ve heard Stephen King read his own work before, and it’s missing something in the telling — but it’s certainly a benefit.

Thanks to the movie, most people already know the story of Coraline, but as is often the case, the story for the movie is much changed from the one in the book. The broad strokes are there, and the director did a great job of bringing the characters to life, but nothing compares to the story as Gaiman reads it. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading it yet, do yourself a favor and listen to it instead.

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Miracleman: The Golden Age

March 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

goldenMiracleman: The Golden Age by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham

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By the time Alan Moore finished his run on Miracleman, he had pretty much said all he could about the superhero as god. Once the character had instituted his Utopia, once he had served as humanity’s savior, there wasn’t much left to say about the character. He opted to end writing the series, handing it over to Neil Gaiman to continue. Gaiman had established himself as a writer already with Sandman, and his writing style often focused on humans living among god-like beings. He was the perfect choice to pick up the series after Moore had established his post-modern take on the character.

As such, where Moore focused on the superheroes, Gaiman focused on the humans who lived among them. The Golden Age is a series of short stories, each looking from a different perspective at life in this new Utopia. We see a man whose search for perfection in beauty keep him isolated, a woman whose superhuman daughter creates more barriers than connections, and the capriciousness of the superheroes’ whims and how they affect real people. Each story is tied together by the end of the arc, and Gaiman includes throwbacks to events in the original series to anchor them as part of the series, but each story is different from the series that begat them.

The stories have less impact than Moore’s did, but that’s not to say they’re not effective. Moore and Gaiman have two distinctly different writing styles, and two different approaches to mythology. Where Moore wants to examine and deconstruct, Gaiman wants to examine and reflect. Despite their differences, the two styles complement each other well, because the human stories are the logical progression from the superhero stories.

With the Miracleman stories back in print, Gaiman has plans to continue writing the arcs that he had initially pitched when he took over the series from Moore. The Silver Age and The Dark Age will finally see print, after years of limbo and litigation, and we might even see new stories beyond Gaiman’s original vision. It will be interesting to see how the stories will compare to what’s already been published, since the Neil Gaiman of today is different from the Neil Gaiman of twenty-plus years ago. Still, for over two decades, the story has remained incomplete, and I’m excited to see how he will conclude the series.

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Miracleman

March 16, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

flyingA Dream of FlyingThe Red King Syndrome, and Olympus by Alan Moore, et al.

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I first read Miracleman long after I had read Watchmen, and around the time when I decided to read more of Alan Moore’s work. Given that Miracleman is basically Watchmen v0.1, I wound up reading the works out of order, but I liked them enough that when the series was finally getting reprinted last year, I started buying them up to re-read them all together. Since The Golden Age finally saw print last month, I decided to sit down and make my way through the series again.

Ultimately, Watchmen is Moore’s magnum opus. It takes the ideas that he started examining in Miracleman and Swamp Thing and forms them into a complex analysis of comic book heroes, comic books, and politics, all while telling an engaging, compelling story. It’s just a shame that it was the first of Moore’s works I read, since all the other stories he’s told using these ideas pale in comparison to it.

syndromeMiracleman was Moore’s first attempt at deconstructing the superhero mythos, and there’s no denying that he did a great job with it. When a hero comes along with abilities that make him god-like, it’s logical that they would become like gods. Moore takes another version of Superman and does just that with him. When someone with that kind of power exists, and sees ways to improve the world, why wouldn’t he do it? Why wouldn’t he step in and say “This is how we’re going to do things, because if we don’t, I have the power to make it happen regardless”? Once the heroes are public, and their strengths are common knowledge, how would one avoid that kind of conclusion?

The opposite side of that coin is someone with that kind of power without any kind of moral compass, which Moore also addresses with the character of Kid Miracleman. That character is one who has internalized his suffering, blaming others for his own pain, so when he has the opportunity to take his revenge, he does so, without remorse, regret, or concern over anyone who gets in his way. Since there are only a handful of others who can survive against such a superhuman onslaught, several innocents are killed in that revenge. Moore doesn’t shy away from showing the horrors of such an act, but neither does he shy away from showing the aftermath of it. Some story arcs would approach that story, end it, and then move on. Look at how The Avengers ended, with widespread destruction and (presumably) thousands of deaths. It’s all ignored to focus on the victory of the heroes. And it’s not at all realistic. Moore attempts to make it realistic, and he succeeds.

olympusThe origin story for the Miracleman Family is a little ridiculous, which can be forgiven, since Moore was working within the confines of the original origins of the characters and attempting to create a new mythos while keeping the existing canon in place (see also how he did the same to Swamp Thing). The explanation he creates makes about as much sense as it can, given those constraints, and it makes as much sense as other superhero origin stories.

As good as Moore’s run on Miracleman was (and continues to be), it’s simply not as good as Watchmen. Considering, though, that Miracleman is still a four-star story when compared to the five-star story of Watchmen, Miracleman is still a story worth reading and examining. I just wish I had read them in the proper order so I could have experienced Moore’s development over the course of all his works.

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Moonbog

March 3, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

bogMoonbog by Rick Hautala

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What’s creepier than a bog? Half forest, half lake, it’s a part of nature that’s managed to strike a balance between life and death and still survive. It’s a perfect setting for a horror novel, and I was as excited to read this now as I was when I first read it in 1995 (I had forgotten pretty much everything about this book since then).

Sadly, Moonbog isn’t a supernatural story. Our main character, David, returns to his small hometown to settle his mother’s will (which, for some reason, is always capitalized as “Will” in the novel), and while he’s there he gets caught up in a series of murdered and missing children. Of course, the eerie bog right on the edge of town is a central part of the story, which adds to the atmosphere, but I felt like there was a lot lost by not having some mystical creature roaming the bog.

In Moondeath, Hautala avoided relying on the whodunnit aspect that takes up a large portion of other werewolf stories, but in Moonbog, he goes back to exactly that. The big question of the novel is who’s abducting and killing the children. Hautala gives us a couple of options as to the killer’s identity, making some of them so obvious as to make us think they’re red herrings, while also creating enough suspicion to keep us from writing them off completely. The reveal was satisfying, but getting there was a bit of a slog. He drew out the pursuit part of the story, making it lack the tension it needed. Also, Hautala’s narrative style is fine, but he tends to spend a lot of time on incidental details that don’t add much to the story.

I’m seeing the same problems with Hautala as I did with Richard Laymon, though, as he doesn’t do much for his female characters. David’s girlfriend is portrayed as a one-dimensional harpy, and aside from the mothers of the missing children, she’s the only female character who gets any attention in the book. There’s no real reason as to why she acts the way she does, and we get very little of the story told from her perspective to allow us to sympathize with her frustration. Apparently Hautala just needed a screeching foil for his main character, and he gave that role to his girlfriend.

That problem could be due to his characterization, which felt weak. His antagonist was just an evil guy, whose motivations are explained away by another character making suppositions about the other person, and that’s done in just a few pages. Even his protagonists were shells instead of realized, so when people died, there was no investment to make the deaths impactful. They were just there to service the story, and whatever connections could have been there just didn’t matter.

In the end, the potential for the story outweighs its execution. This is the second horror novel I’ve read that has used a bog as a central setting (the other being The Man in the Moss by Phil Rickman), and both of them were lacking. Maybe it’s because I’ve always had a fascination with bogs, and I build up the idea of the story to impossible levels. Regardless, I’m still waiting to read a good horror novel that features a bog.

Unfortunate Musical Connection: “Moonchild” by Iron Maiden (again)

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Moondeath

February 23, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

deathMoondeath by Rick Hautala

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Rick Hautala is another writer I remember from my horror days, and after I gave up on Richard Laymon last week, I figured I would move on to Hautala. I remember liking him a bit more than the other authors, and I distinctly remember how he managed to frighten me with something as innocuous as a croquet mallet in Dark Silence, so I figured I should give him another shot. I’ve read Moondeath before, but I figured where else should I start revisiting the author but at the start?

The cover and the title of the book tell you everything you need to know about the story — werewolves! Werewolf fiction, in general, doesn’t do much for me. They tend to follow the same general structure, where the bulk of the story is in determining who it is. Hautala does manage to avoid that being the heart of the story (most of the people in the town don’t believe in werewolves, and it’s pretty clear from early in the story who it is), but it was still just outside my interest level to keep me fully engaged. Neither did I feel like I was going to give up on the novel, though.

Hautala’s style is clean and crisp, but he has a habit of having his characters stutter and trip over words when they get nervous. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it captures their anxious state of mind without having to tell us they’re anxious, but on the other hand, I would sometimes get stuck on thinking it was a typo in the book (which, I should note, had several). I never quite got used to that part of his style.

The novel also feels too long. The first and second acts move along at a pace that makes sense, but the third act gets drawn out by a lot of incidental details. I wasn’t sure why Bob, the main character, moved to Florida right in the midst of the attacks. I mean, Hautala set up a good enough reason, so it didn’t just come out of left field, but I didn’t understand why it was necessary to have that part in the story. Plus, there sure were a lot of people in the town who just disliked Bob right from the start. It reminds me of that old adage: If you run into one jerk a day, that person was probably a jerk, but if you run into several, maybe it’s you who’s the jerk.

In the end, Bob isn’t a very sympathetic character. For much of the novel he’s the only one in town who believes that a werewolf is the cause of the problem, so he’s definitely the protagonist, but his behavior doesn’t make us want to like him that much. I’ve seen some reviews that praise Hautala’s characterization, and while I think it works well enough, it didn’t strike me as noteworthy. There’s only one significant female character, and she’s not developed much outside of being Bob’s love interest. Still, this was Hautala’s first novel, so I’m willing to let some shortcomings go.

Moondeath is actually reminiscent of Richard Laymon, even though the authors were writing at about the same time. It has the same sort of style, and even has a similar style of characterization. The obsession with sex is absent (which is not to say it’s a chaste book, but it’s not a main focus like it was in Laymon’s fiction), but there’s a bit of a sexist overtone to how the female characters are portrayed. On the bright side, I don’t see anything as overtly misogynistic as I did in Laymon’s books.

Interestingly, I’ve seen a number of reviews and descriptions of the book that refer to the small town of Coon Falls, but in the edition I read (the e-book version of the Evil Jester printing), the town is called Cooper Falls. I don’t have a problem with the change (the reason for it seems fairly obvious), but it struck me as notable.

Moondeath is an okay novel, but then again, it’s also the author’s first novel. Because it’s a first novel, and because Hautala does manage to capture the fear of his characters, I’m not quite ready to give up on the author. This was another re-read for me, and like my other horror re-reads, I didn’t remember much detail about it. That scene from Dark Silence that I mentioned above, though, will keep me reading.

Unfortunate Musical Connection: “Moonchild” by Iron Maiden

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Resurrection Dreams

February 18, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

dreamsResurrection Dreams by Richard Laymon

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I expect older horror novels to be pretty cheesy, but Resurrection Dreams holds the new record with me. The opening chapters center on a socially awkward high school senior who, for his final science fair project, digs up the corpse of a recently dead classmate, hooks her up to a car battery, and attempts to bring her back to life.

In front of a crowd.

With a megaphone.

Sure, this introduction establishes that Melvin (props to Laymon for the perfect name, by the way) is insane, but it raises several questions with me, none of which are easily answered:

  1. How did he get the body so quickly? The accident happened just a few days before the science fair, seemingly not even long enough for a service to be held. Surely that would have been an interesting scene.
  2. How did he manage to get his project into the fair? Surely someone would have noticed the size of his project and asked about it. And despite Melvin hiding his project behind a lot of sheets, wouldn’t someone have noticed the smell? And what about the teachers? Wouldn’t his science teacher wonder why he had to hide such a big display when he had been giving updates on, say, his potato battery project?
  3. What on earth was the hypothesis for this project? And what did his research paper look like? Was it drawn in crayon with a bunch of Joker-esque HAHAHAHA!s all over the place?

(OK, so question three seems a little picky, but Laymon has written books where he goes into the painful minutiae of any given scene. Surely that would have been an opportunity to add a bit of comedy to this story.)

After that opening, the story jumps several years ahead, when Vicki, a classmate who witnessed the above science project, returns to the town to be a doctor there. Laymon gives us a good reason for her to do so, but not for why Melvin is still living in the town. We learn that he had been institutionalized after his science project, but why on earth would he be released under his own recognizance? Is that a reasonable thing to expect for someone who had gone that far over the edge?

Much later in the story, Vicki, who remember is a medical doctor, accepts that someone else hypnotized another person to kill someone else. Hasn’t medical science confirmed for a long time now that it’s impossible to make someone do something under hypnotism that they wouldn’t want to do? Why does a medical doctor believe something like that without questioning it? The answer, I believe, is because Laymon needs her to.

The whole thing is ridiculous. What supernatural element there is in the novel feels forced, and the longer the story goes on without addressing the complications of such a thing, the more ridiculous it gets. The story wouldn’t work without it, but Laymon doesn’t seem to want to spend any time on the logistics of it, so it makes the story feel stupid.

Lastly, Laymon cheats with this story. He pulls a bait-and-switch to make you think that the principle characters are dead, when they really aren’t. I’ve seen other authors pull this sort of thing, but there’s usually some clue there to fall back on to realize how you were duped. Here, it’s just dumped in there, and you don’t realize you’ve been cheated until the final part of the scene. And I went back to check.

Oh, and the sex scenes. Not just here in this book, but in all of them; they’re just ludicrous. He refers to firm mounds, soft mounds, thick shafts, soft walls … the language is like reading some softcore Harlequin novel. It’s laughable. It’s like something a high schooler would write.

I’m done with Laymon. A couple years ago, I had a moment where I told myself that there’s so much good fiction out there to read, I shouldn’t limit myself to reading a bunch of crap. I had a couple of Bentley Little and Richard Laymon paperbacks at the time, which I ditched because I also had some George R.R. Martin and James Morrow books that I hadn’t had the chance to read. There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to give up on Laymon, but dang, I just can’t justify reading this much fiction that doesn’t even make sense. And I’m not just quitting the author here; I’m rage quitting him.

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Midnight’s Lair

February 15, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

lairMidnight’s Lair by Richard Laymon

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Midnight’s Lair was the first Laymon book I read, over twenty years ago, and bits and pieces of the story have stayed with me all that time. It’s a great idea — a group of tourists touring an underground lake are plunged into darkness and have to find a way out — and a lot of the scenes have power, so I was looking forward to re-reading the book, even though his books have been mostly misses with me. This one, I thought, would show me whether there was something good about Laymon’s style.

The short answer is: Mostly. The novel starts off with its hook, unspooling the rest of the events from that moment, and it works surprisingly well. I finally saw Laymon’s characterization skills at its best, since he managed to create his main characters very well, in a short span of time. I think he minimizes them, though, by giving them romantic entanglements that develop in the span of minutes or hours. My guess is he’s hoping to get the readers more engaged in the characters by giving them something to live for, so to speak, but the relationships develop so quickly that they seem trivial. Darcy, the main protagonist, is capable, smart, tenacious, and has more of a reason to get out of the cave than just survival (her mother is above ground, and events develop to the point where she has to get out to make sure her mother is all right), but when she starts smooching and loving on Greg, the male protagonist, she suddenly becomes a lot less interesting. I think developing a romance from the two characters is fine (in fact, it would be disappointing had they not hooked up by the end of the story), but let them get out of their predicament before they start giving over to their physical desires. Speed may be a cheesy action flick, but at least it got the romantic aspect of the story right.

Midnight’s Lair would make an excellent premise book, except for the fact that Laymon has to go and make it about more than just escaping an underground lake cavern in the dark. He has to bring in a group of people who live in that darkness feeding on the people who are unfortunate enough to become trapped down with them. Laymon populates his group of people just right, so there’s internal conflict to go along with the main conflict of just surviving long enough to escape, and that alone is enough to carry the story. I get that this is a horror novel, and that Laymon needed to add an unknown protagonist, but I thought the idea of forty people trapped underground in pitch blackness, along with a sexual predator, was enough of a story by itself.

I do my best to separate an author from his or her fiction, but with Laymon, I have to wonder what his worldview was like to write these kinds of books. In Midnight’s Lair, there’s a scene where people are watching a hotel burn to the ground, and one guy comes on to a woman in her bathing suit. She rebuffs him, mentioning that her daughter is trapped beneath the fire in the caves, and as she walks away, she hears him call her a “tightass cunt”. I’m probably showing my privilege here, but are there really men out there who would act like that in that kind of a situation? That sort of thing isn’t limited just to this book, though; there’s usually a character like that (sometimes more than one) in every one of his books. Laymon at least portrays his male protagonists as being respectful, but did he think all other men were like this? Or are they, and I’m just unaware?

By contrast, the novel also features a character — a sexual predator — in the caves who takes the opportunity to take his stalking of another character up a level, despite the situation being one of life or death. I could accept that, since I can accept that a sexual predator would be self-absorbed, obsessed, and unable to judge the appropriateness of a situation, but I had a hard time with the casual misogyny of the other male characters in the novel. I should note that I started reading Laymon’s books after finishing up Jack Ketchum’s books, where I didn’t see this kind of problem, even when his books were much more brutal, much darker, and committed worse atrocities toward women. There was misogyny there, too, but it didn’t seem to be as prevalent and consuming as it is in Laymon’s books. In Ketchum’s books, the misogyny was the main problem; in Laymon’s books, it’s just part of the background.

Laymon also makes his female protagonists fit, and usually has at least one overweight female character (described by other characters — bad and good — as “gross”), who is either an antagonist, or marked to be killed off later in the story. Later, when the group first get a hint of being saved, they start talking about the first thing they’re going to do on getting out. The men talk of eating steak and drinking alcohol, but the women want baths. Laymon makes it explicit in his narrative: “‘All I want’s a long, hot bath.’ That was a woman, of course.” It’s disappointing in lots of ways, and where some critics can look at his other portrayals of women and write them off as satire of some kind, that kind of casually sexist portrayal can’t be dismissed as easily.

The story is engaging, and is certain to be memorable, but it’s not without its problems. I’m thinking that these problems are just part of reading a Laymon book. I still like his style enough to keep moving forward, but I’m not sure what the difference is between him and, say, Bentley Little, whose casual sexism made me quit reading his books. Though, if I’m being honest, Little’s stories started to get boring. Laymon’s novels, at least, are anything but, even with all the problems.

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Into the Out Of

February 8, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

outInto the Out Of by Alan Dean Foster

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This book was one of the first I ever received through the Science Fiction Book Club. That would have been around 1987, and I probably read the book in less than a day. To this day, I still have vivid memories of images from this book, from the first chapter through to the end. I’m surprised that I haven’t re-read the book since then, but when I first started using my Nook, I saw it at a good price, and couldn’t resist it. I was pleased to see it pop up as my next book to read.

The story centers on three people: Joshua Oak, an FBI agent; Merry Sharrow, a telephone sales rep from Eddie Bauer on vacation in Washington, D.C.; and Mbatian Olkeloki, a Tanzanian elder who recruits them to fight something supernatural. As for the supernatural … well, you know when you think you see something out of the corner of your eye, and when you look, nothing’s there? Foster takes that idea and creates a race of beings called shetani that live in the shadows just out of our field of vision. It’s an effective premise, especially if you’re into spooky stories.

Foster develops the characters well enough in the beginning to have us sympathize with them, but later in the story their development stagnates. Once we have an idea of who they are, the plot takes over, and they wind up not feeling very realistic to me. Joshua seems somewhat inconsistent, as he’s constantly struggling with his disbelief, despite the number of times he confronts the reality of the supernatural. Merry, once confronted with it, never veers from her belief. There was a subtle, sexist overtone to their responses, especially when Joshua would view Merry’s belief as some sort of hysteria, which rubbed me the wrong way, and a lot of the notions of the story seemed somewhat sexist. Near the end of the book, Merry, who has been presented as a strong, capable woman (if somewhat shy), becomes a damsel in distress.

Unfortunately, the story shows its age with references to flying on the Concorde, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Soviet Premier and the Cold War (to say nothing of the problems the heroes could have escaped with things like cell phones and the Internet). It’s unfortunate, but not a deal-breaker, so long as you look at the story as a product of its time. I also had concerns that the portrayals of the Maasai elder might have been stereotypical, but the acknowledgements section suggests that Foster did some traveling and research to capture the authenticity of the culture.

All that being said, I still found myself engaged in the story. I was surprised that I read a quarter of it in just an hour or so, after expecting to read just a chapter or two before going to bed. Foster has the chops to keep readers reading, even in a story that’s nearly thirty years old. The middle third of the book is a bit of a drag, as it’s following the main characters after they’ve discovered the shetani but before they enter the final battle, and it features a lot of detail about Africa. I think Foster was trying hard to show the reader that he had been there to do his research. Still, the rest of the book is quite the romp. It’s just hard to divide the story from my memories of reading it that first time.

The story is solid, with a handful of surprises to keep readers interested (and there are some clues to those surprised buried in the narrative to reward those who re-read the book), but it’s not as good a story as I remember it. I would still recommend it to folks who like the supernatural, and don’t mind the story being a little dated, but a lot of what carried the story for me was its nostalgia.

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