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“There was an incident,” he said. “A series of incidents, I guess. A dead guy, another dead guy. Some drugs. It’s kind of a long story. Now we can see things. Sometimes. I have a dead cat that follows me around, wondering why I never feed it. Oh, and I had one hamburger that started mooing when I ate it.” He glanced at me. “You remember that?”
I grunted, said nothing.
It wasn’t mooing, John. It was screaming.
John Dies At The End was originally a story serialised on a website. Then it was published as a book. Now it’s about to be released as a movie, directed by Don Coscarelli who made Phantasm and is therefore a very cool person in my book. Here have a look at the trailer. My high concept for the story is William Burroughs rewrites Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It made me laugh, a lot. More impressive though is that it also managed to disturb me with the implied horrors bubbling along beneath the comic banter between our hero David Wong and his friend John.
As David is telling the story of his adventures – actually during the course of an interview with a reporter named Arnie – we learn that his name has been changed to make him harder to find, presumably by the obsessive fans who follow his adventures online given his growing reputation as a combater of supernatural threats. See one night David and his friend John – also not his real name – were at a concert in the town of Undisclosed (many of the details in the story are redacted for legal reasons) when they encountered a strange fellow pretending to be Jamaican and supplying folks with a drug called Soy sauce. It was a hallucinogen, those who took it experienced visions, heightened senses – as well as death. Overnight almost every person who met the fake Jamaican had died mysteriously, except for John.
The two friends quickly realized that Soy sauce is not just a drug. Following their exposure – David accidentally manages to inject himself – they become aware of strange creatures massing on the borders of this dimension. The end of the world is coming and its only hope is two confused video-store clerks who don’t really understand what is going on.
Much like House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, John Dies At The End cleverly embraces the capacity of the internet to spread stories. Through the course of the book we learn that David and John are becoming more famous, a neat parallel for the growing interest in the book itself online. This is also the source of the story’s greatest strength. By rooting itself in the commonplace weirdness of the internet – every possible combination of aliens, demons, magic and superscience is just a google search way – the book apes an almost convincing plausibility. The seeming personal testimony of Wong, the pseudonym of Cracked.com contributor Jason Pargin, is also a nice gimmick.
However, the story also has a number of poignant moments surrounding death and our awareness of our mortality. It pop-nihilism, stripping away the ponderousness of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu-beasties but retaining the crushing awareness of our cosmic insignificance, is surprisingly compelling. There is a lot of laughter to be found in these pages, but also a creeping sense of dread.
Finally it must be said the ending for this book, a book which is relentless in its foreshadowing of endings, is simply perfect. I cannot wait to see the movie.
The book of war, the one we’ve been writing since one ape slapped another, was completely useless in this situation. We had to write a new one from scratch.
I reread Brooks’ follow up to the Zombie Survival Guide just as news broke that Glasgow had been converted into downtown zombie besieged Philadelphia for the Brad Pitt film adaptation. That earlier book featured a series of tongue-in-cheek survival techniques for dealing with the imminent time of the undead rising to feed upon the flesh of the living. If you go into a bookstore you’ll like as not find the Guide in the humour section. But the interesting section in the book was its latter half when Brooks introduced a series of short ‘histories’ featuring zombies tropes being applied to a number of unfamiliar settings. My favourite was the zombies in the French Foreign Legion narrative.
For World War Z Brooks revealed that the zombie apocalypse has already happened and following years of hardship humanity is slowly rebuilding itself. This time the storytelling device is that our narrator is a bureaucrat traveling around the world assembling a report on the outbreak of the mysterious disease that caused the ghouls and how it led to the breakdown of civilized society.
The one and one interviews between the narrator and the individuals he meets allows Brooks to introduce a series of contrasting genres into the monotonous zombie horror format. There are military exercises, home invasions, scientific inquiries, political satire – World War Z becomes a wide-ranging critique of many aspects of contemporary culture.
With brain-munching on the side.
Given the variation between the interviews, the tone shifts drastically from ‘objective’ reportage, to comedy, tragedy – even psychological suspense. There has been much comment over the years in relation to the celebrity cameos hidden in the text, from an apathetic Paris Hilton, to Howard Dean and even Nelson Mandela. There is even something blackly comical about Brooks pitching that the only event that could lead the political parties of the United States to unite is the near annihilation of the human race. As such this functions in the best tradition of post-George Romero zombie horror, happy to indulge in both gore and allegory.
There is no plot as such in this book. Rather this is a fictional history of the events that follow the outbreak of World War Z. Brooks was apparently inspired by the documented history of the second world war. Despite this the book is genuinely powerful, avoiding the calculated phrasing of the official report it will come to create. Indeed the narrator frequently alludes to how the official account will exclude much of the personal detail included here. That is possibly the smartest aspect of the book, how it balances the immensity of the horror unleashed with the ‘official version of events’. Compare this to Seeing by José Saramago, the sequel to Blindness, where we discover the government has completely buried the spontaneous lose of sight of an entire city’s population. Ultimately the characters introduced by Brooks are left to deal with the sights they have witnessed and the tragedies they have experienced alone.
This is an instant horror classic, which rises above its brain-dead peers.
He nods. He understands. And then he takes my hand and presses his lips against my palm. It feels like fire entering my bloodstream and laying siege to my body. He kisses my wrist, and I am an inferno. He starts to move up my arm, his breath tantalizing, and I almost give in as he pulls me to him.
But instead I step back, cradling my arm to my chest. “Be well,” I tell him because I don’t know how to explain what I really want to say. And then I slip out the window and am covered in snow that instantly douses my skin, which just moments before had been aflame.
Paranormal romance has evolved certain tropes that are in danger of becoming repetitive. Firstly, the whole romance itself has often been perpetuated through a love triangle whose oscillations sustain a series of novels. Secondly the female protagonists have a tendency to either be clumsy, or suffer extreme injuries/physical deprivations. What interests me is that this kind of wish fulfillment fantasy carries echoes of male adventure novels. Bond having to choose between the ‘good girl’ and the bad. Clive Cussler‘s Dirk Pitt receives terrible injuries only to get right back up again and carry on. Are Paranormal Romance books just gender-swapped boys’ own adventures, with all that that implies?
Mary lives with her mother and brother in a community of survivors following a catastrophic event that destroyed civilization. Their memories of the time before are vague and the event itself is simply referred to as ‘The Return’ – when the dead rose and began to feed on the living. These once human creatures are known as the Unconsecrated and for her entire life Mary has lived with the sound of their cries every day, pressed up against the protective fence that surrounds the village. Beyond the fence lies the impenetrable Forest of Hands and Teeth.
When Mary’s mother is killed and her brother disowns her, she is thrown to the mercy of the Sisters, who run the village community. Her only other option would be to marry, but her best friend is to marry the boy she loves Travis and his brother, Harry, who does want her let the Sisters take her from her home. She is alone.
Sister Tabitha attempts to break Mary’s spirit and teach her that the only option is to accept her fate. Instead the young girl continues to find new ways to rebel, despite her punishments. Eventually she discovers a secret that the Sisters and the Guardians, who patrol the village fences, have been hiding. There is another girl in the Cathedral, wearing red, who Mary has never seen before. She is not from the village. Is there another place where life survived? Will she ever, as her mother promised her, see the ocean?
This is a very problematic novel. For a start the ‘romance’ is entirely counter-productive. Sister Tabitha claims that Mary’s headstrong nature will be the doom of the village. As it happens, she is not far wrong. The main character’s insistence on pursuing her own desires are pitched as being liberating, but she is living in the centre of community surrounded on all sides by monsters! Priorities! When survival becomes the most important thing, Mary is still mooning after Travis. More interesting by far is her relationship with her brother Jed, who blames her for their mother’s death. Unfortunately the novel only returns to their conflict near the end, just in time to tie up loose ends before the anticlimactic conclusion.
Mary is simply infuriating, her self-absorption almost justifiable if the reader considers that she must be suffering from colossal trauma given the village’s circumstances. The Unconsecrated themselves are mindless monsters that are simply always there. Their function in the story is to represent an ever-present threat, but beyond that there is nothing of interest about them.
This is a frustrating, tedious novel, that loses its way once the characters themselves become lost in the Forest of Hands and Teeth.
First of all, flick that Doubting Thomas switch. Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, by current X-Men writer Victor Gischler, is an insane train ride full of Go-Go Girls, home surgery transexuals, cannibalistic hicks and … train rides. The situations are so incredibly unbelieveable that it walks the fine line between absurdity and genius.
Thankfully Mr Gischler manages to dance on both sides of that line, making for a fantastic character driven story which is silly, ridiculous, sexy, moving and horrifying all at once. The post-apocalyptic world that Gischler has created may not be believeable but it certainly is plausible. The world is in chaos. Fuel and food are in very short supply. Governments have fallen. All that remains are the most important of things, booze and nudey girls. Nowadays, boobies make the world go round.
Insurance salesman Mortimer Tate runs away from his wife so that she can’t serve divorce papers on him. Fearing the end of the world if his marriage were to dissolve he flees to a mountain cabin, just in time for the world to end. Governments have crumbled and society has all but destroyed itself. After spending nine years by himself, living of canned food and a coffee a day, he leaves the cabin only to run head long into trouble. It’s at this point that we are introduced to Buffalo Bill. Bill is the rootinest, tootinest gunslinger that Mortimer has ever met. Bill has taken on the appearance and personality of THE Buffalo Bill. Bill and Mortimer wade through an endless sea of psychopaths and backstabbers all in an effort to reach his ex-wife, to ensure her safety and face the music.
Gischler’s wry and sardonic wit make it incredibly enjoyable to watch our players battling flesh eaters and rapists. Such dark material could easily have set the tone for the entire story, however, Gischler has managed to create some very believeable characters. Rumour has it that a feature film is in the works which is no great surprise. This novel reads like a gritty, high budget action film full of action and adventure, freaks and geeks, cannibals and sexy gals. The story is filled with some really great dialogue and I can only hope that the film reflects this. This is where the stories heart lies, in those quiet moments away from the madness and mayhem. A moment of peaceful reflection shared between two characters in a world gone mad.
Part homage, part satire of the post-apocalyptic genre, Go-Go Girls… is a wonderfully written piece of modern fiction comparable to the work of Vonnegut and to a lesser extent Douglas Adams. It’s rather tricky to locate here in Australia so perhaps a visit to Amazon would be easier. Regardless of how you get it, this is a fantastic read for those who don’t mind having a laugh at the sick and twisted. If you’re easily offended… read it anyway.
Is there – and this is the question, the real question – is there one girl, just one, whether she be called Bea or Eva or Djemia, who has not experienced the war? Just one who has not made war with her body, with her gentle face and moist eyes, with her mouth and teeth, with her hair? Just one who has been neither prey for the hunter, nor hunter herself? On all sides are watchful gazes, darts bristling from loop-holes. On all sides, breastplates, shields, scabbards, arrows, machine-gun barrels.
Stephanie gave me this book as a gift. “Here’s a nice short one”, she said, an easy read that would not take up too much of our time during the weekend. Oh how wrong she was.
I have gobbled down some fat books well under a day. As I tell people, this is usually because I have an interest in the material. If I am having a good time reading, my speed increases. If I am having a hard time, my reading speed crawls to a halt. Please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying today’s book was poorly written – I do not have the courage to go up against the judges of The Nobel Prize for Literature – but it certainly belied its slim size.
This book is something very special.
For a start, from the book’s beginning the tone is quite similar to a long-form prose poem. War is described as an onrushing event, an already present eschaton, indeed the inevitable death of humanity itself that is prophesied by modernity. Bea B and her lover Monsieur X are the nominal protagonists of this book, witness to the dehumanising influence of ‘war’. The ruining of a face is revealed to be symbolic for the destruction of a cityscape. Bea B imagines herself becoming electricity and infusing a simple light-bulb with energy. War is the chaos of clashing forces, the impossible to predict outcome of humanity’s desire to destroy itself.
Le Clezio extrapolates this same desire from every innocuous element in life. Each chapter opens with a seemingly random quote from science, literature and science fiction. A particular favourite was a long quotation from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, describing a world entirely covered in artificial, man-made structures. Le Clezio shines a new light on this most anachronistic of science fiction authors, identifying a Ballardian aspect to his writing that has perhaps gone unnoticed. Ballard is largely credited as a prophet of urban nihilism and War certainly evokes a similar style. This is a comparison that, thankfully, others have noticed.
I also found his vision of the apocalypse, an absurdist eruption of meaninglessness, reminiscent of Antonin Artaud, where the apocalypse is simply a breakown in our sense of what is real, what is normal. Le Clezio mines a similar theme, such as when Bea B. finds herself involved in a ‘man hunt’, or Monsieur X’s description of events in Vietnam. That he can describe such war crimes in such a matter of fact manner once again underlines the omnispresence of horror and destruction in today’s world. So who is to say that the ‘war’, has not already begun?
I found this to be a very difficult read, but a nonetheless incredible piece of writing. Sublimated poetry, with a philosophical tone, a literary revelation.
Things will get better. In fifteen years’ time and that’s such a little space – 90 per cent of the people living in Britain will be over eighty. There won’t be the energy from evil any more than there will be the energy for good.
I have got to stop reviewing books that have been adapted to film. I waste most of the review commenting on the differences between the film and the text. Plus this blog is dedicated to books and yet my love of cinema insists on creeping back in.
Still I was astonished at how much the screenplay based on P.D. James‘ novel diverged from the text. In his commentary on the dvd for Children of Men philosopher Slavoj Zizek comments on how the religious subtext of the book is dropped for more cinematic themes such as terrorism and a breakdown in multicultural society.
Both stories come from the same root, however. By 2021 the human race is doomed by a worldwide epidemic of childlessness that has lasted twenty five years. Theo Faron a fifty-year-old Oxford historian has begun a diary that provides us with an insight into how the quiet extinction of the human race has changed Britain. A new system of governance has taken over in the wake of global panic, ruled by his cousin Xan Lyppiatt, the Warden of England. Under his rule order has been restored to the country due to his wide-ranging policy changes and of course the increasing depopulation. Cities are quiet and safe. Criminals are deported to the Isle of Man. Immigrants from other countries are invited to England to do menial jobs, referred to as Sojourners, but are returned to their countries of origin once they become elderly.
The infertility event is designated Omega, with the last generation of humans born in 1995 known as Omegas. Theo describes them as being over-entitled, spoiled brats, who regard their elders with undisguised contempt. There are even rumours that there are roaming gangs of Omegas in the abandoned English countryside. Their youth is something incomprehensible and threatening to the dispassionate and increasingly listless older population. Some women who were of child-bearing at the time of Omega have never recovered from the psychological trauma. Dolls are wheeled about in prams in imitation of real children. There are even christenings of newborn pets. Animals it appears were spared divine punishment.
Theo’s diary also describes his relationship with Xan and their time spent together as children, which allows him to believe he is untouchable even as his concerns about the nature of his cousin’s power over Britain grows. He is contacted by a small group of dissidents, the Five Fishes, who contact him in the hope that he can use his influence with Xan to repeal some of his policies. Initially dismissive of their utopian plans,Theo is an unwilling co-conspirator, until he is given a reason to hope for a possible future for the human race. It takes nothing less than a genuine miracle to wipe away his privileged sceptism.
At times Theo Faron feels like a character from an Evelyn Waugh novel who somehow became lost and wandered into this listless dystopia. James herself draws attention to this, by having Xan utter the line “How too Brideshead, dear boy. I feel the need of a teddy bear.” The early half of Children of Men is a fantastic eulogy to a dying Britain, with Theo a curator for a culture that will soon vanish, singing the praises of emptying churches, libraries and museums. The violent Omegas are strangely alien to him, remiscent of The Midwich Cuckoos and Burgess’ Droogs (much like Alex’s friends, some are even conscripted into the police). The abandoned villages and seaside holiday resorts transformed into destinations for assisted suicide are beautifully evoked.
However, as Theo becomes more and more involved with the Five Fishes the novel changes, becoming an unusual mixture of thriller and religious allegory. Incredibly P.D. James has fashioned a twenty-first century neo-Nativity. Xan makes for a charming Herod, a politician who acquired ideology to suit his passage to power and finds it difficult to relinquish, even in the face of the end of the world. There is an amusing aside when The Beatles classic All You Need is Love becomes a rallying cry for evangelists.
Children of Men is more a novel of ideas than a work of science fiction, questioning the meaning of life without purpose. Remarkable.