Saturday, June 20, 2009
If ever an author was truly rolling in her grave, it would certainly be Jane Austen. Partly because of how her Pride and joy was completely republished as a new macabre creation and partly because she's probably "stricken" with the undead plague that's been sweeping through Austen's England and is hankering for a healthy second serving of brains.
While Seth Grahame-Smith doesn't deviate overmuch from the basic structure of Pride and Prejudice, he does introduce many scenes of zombie carnage, giving his (or should I say Austen's) heroine plentiful chances to demonstrate her prowess with a katana or musket.
One of my favorite deviations is how Grahame-Smith lets Charlotte, Mr. Collins's fiancee then wife, get stricken by the zombie plague before she accepts Mr. Collins's marriage proposal. Elizabeth Bennett is the only soul who knows about her plight, and everyone is stupidly oblivious to it, even as Charlotte's condition worsens and she starts slurring her speech, eating spiders and leaves, and acting more and more like a mindless monster.
The battle of words between Darcy and Elizabeth takes a progressive step in this version of P&P, with the two fighting with sword and whatever else they can in their climactic knock-down-drag-out fight.
The story never really takes an ultimate twist to the point of changing the story entirely. The end of the book finds the majority of the characters in the same general position as in the original. That was slightly disappointing. (I was expecting some grand explanation for the plague, with Elizabeth, Darcy, and her courageous, zombie-slaying sisters defeating the ultimate cause of the plague, which I assumed might be Lady Catherine de Bourgh--who seems somehow supernatural throughout the novel.)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an enjoyable iteration of the original and reminded me of the unique short story "Pride and Prometheus," in which Mary Bennett (Elizabeth's "brainy" sister) has a scientific love affair with Dr. Victor Frankenstein. "Pride and Prometheus" is a nominee for the Hugo for 2008 and was published in Fantasy and Science Fiction.
I look forward to Seth Grahame-Smith's original composition--Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter--which will be the true test of his abilities as a speculative fiction novelist.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. 2009. Quirk. 320 pp. $12.95 (PB).
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Once again I come back to one of my favorite subgenres of speculative fiction: post-apocalypse.
With the imminent release of the film version of The Road this fall, starring Viggo Mortensen, I wanted to get to the book before I became biased by the film version.
The road is the story of a father and son (always known only by their role to each other...never by first names) who are journeying across the wasteland of the former U.S., trying to make their way to the beach and south so that they will have better chances of surviving the harsh winter. It's the ultimate survival story: they scour abandoned buildings, avoid slave gangs and cannibalistic marauders, and find ways to stay alive just one more day.
The story is haunting. It's not haunting because of shock value, although it does have its fair share of humans doing horribly desperate things to other humans. It's haunting because the father and son McCarthy portrays are the father and son who live next door. Or, in my reading of it, the father and son felt chillingly like me and my boy. The thought of raising him in such nightmarish conditions made the story hauntingly poignant and ultimately thought-provoking. How could I survive this and keep my son alive? How would we treat humankind once all social customs and etiquette were blown into smithereens by atomic warfare? As the son puts it: "Dad, are we still the good guys?"
The book is short--a quick read because of its style as well--and is extremely hard to put down because of how soon the reader becomes tied to the fate of these hopeless wanderers. An Oprah pick and a Pulitzer Prize winner, The Road is worth the read, winding with its difficult predicament and ultimate hope in humanity.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. 2006. Knopf. 256 pp. $10.76.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
I have to admit that the concept of this story disturbed me at first. A sociopathic boy who's fascinated with serial killers realizes he needs to save the town when a demon begins a rampage. A little creepy, no?
What I wasn't prepared for is Dan Wells's disarming charm and ineffable dark humor.
John Wayne Cleaver lives with his mother and works with her and his aunt in the family mortuary. Embalming is one of his favorite things to do along with researching everything he can about serial killers, because he's afraid that his sociopathic tendencies will lead him to become one someday. But he's made rules for himself and sees a psychologist regularly, so he's confident that he can lead a good life despite his condition.
But when people mysteriously start dying in gruesome ways, John Cleaver is curious and investigates what will eventually become an obsession for him: tracking down the demon who's doing this and ending his life.
Creepy, isn't it?
What I like the most about this novel is how Dan Wells twists the hero mold (and even the anti-hero mold) in a new way. John Cleaver, while a sociopath and probably a kid you wouldn't want your kids playing with, still has good intentions. Like his rule about when he gets really angry at someone and starts thinking violent thoughts. In such cases, he smiles big and pays that person a compliment. Also, when John discovers who is murdering people, he doesn't go to the police (especially since two policemen already died when trying to apprehend the demon); instead, he stalks the demon. He leaves the demon notes saying things like "I know what you are." The way Dan Wells approaches his hero is with the premise, "How would one messed-up kid go about trying to save his own town?"
The characters in the story are very diverse and interesting--everyone from Mr. Crawley, the friendly neighborhood elderly man; Max, John's loser best friend; Lauren, John's rebellious, prodigal sister; John's quirky Aunt Margaret; and many others.
Dan Wells's second novel in the series, Mr. Monster, comes out February 4, 2010. I can hardly wait and am looking forward to everything that follows this amazing debut.
I Am Not a Serial Killer, by Dan Wells. 2009. Headline (Hatchette UK). 282 pp. £6.99.