Posts Tagged ‘vampires’

Home Improvement: Undead Edition edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner – review

June 12, 2012

Part of the reason I picked up Home Improvement: Undead Edition (HIUE) is that I’ve just been on a bit of a horror kick lately. This has mostly manifested itself in movies, usually bad ones. Seeing a new horror book that wasn’t eight hundred pages long piqued my interest. Also, I’ve never read anything by anyone (including Charlaine Harris) in this book , so I saw it as an opportunity to stretch my wings a bit and read some new authors while also getting my horror joneses.

To be sure, this is a different sort of horror than what I’m used to. I grew up a huge Stephen King fan (though, oddly enough, that started with the very non-horror title The Eyes of the Dragon), tried some Peter Straub, really like Phil Rickman (though, also perhaps oddly, none of the Merrily Watkins stuff) and have recently loved the Del Toro/Hogan vampire trilogy. In other words, a lot of wordy, violent, sexy, graphic stuff. Part of me wants to refer to the stuff in HIUE as horror lite, but that sounds derogatory. Really, it’s just a different sort of horror, something more fun, more playful, dealing with the tropes of the genre but skirting – for the most part – a lot of the nastier bits.

I have to admit, I did enjoy the Sookie Stackhouse story by Harris. It moved quick, with the assured pacing and development of an author who knows her characters and knows her materials. For a collection of stories focusing on horror and house repairs, I could best call it workmanlike, with the smooth touches of a finish carpenter. Being so unfamiliar with this type of horror, and seeing the row upon row of Charlaine Harris titles on the shelf, this seemed like a good way of introducing myself to the work to see if I would be interested in any of her other stuff. I’ll probably at least give some more of them a look now.

While all of the stories were enjoyable reads, a few stood out as personal favorites. The first was Wizard Home Security  by Victor Gischler. The idea of wizards needing to invest in home security systems, tailored to their unique requirements, was enjoyable. the protagonist isn’t entirely likeable, but he straddles that gap of being too unlikeable to like and being just unlikeable enough to be loved.  He’s curmudgeonly and cheap, and is what really drives the story from being just another story in an anthology to something you’d make a special trip to get a reading of.

Blood on the Wall by Heather Graham is a genre piece within a genre collection. While a bit of it isn’t as surprising as it may have intended to be, I got into the 1940-esqe hardboiled noirness of it. It’s a good romp through the cemetery.

Rick the Brave by Stacia Kane stood out because of its approach. There is nothing special about the protagonist, Rick.  Without going into overly cumbersome details, Kane lets us in on a world where the dead have broken through, and they’re mad as hell, prompting a rise of a new church that apparently led the way in fighting back the legions of the noncorporeal, and now works to keep them at bay. And all of that is just minor back story that Kane covers quickly and efficiently in relating her tale of Rick, the guy who just wants to earn a few bucks on the side and gets roped into fighting some pissed of spirits before helping an illegal witch (she may or may not be licensed by the church) close a portal the ghosts had been using to leak into our world.

Alright, quicky review is done. If you’re a Charlaine Harris, this is almost definitely up your alley. If you’re a horror fan and just looking for something a bit different and lighter, I don’t think you can go wrong here. Here is the Barnes and Noble link for it, if you’re interested. At the very least, get it out of the library and give it a read. It’s a good way of meeting several new authors.

The Night Eternal by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan – review (spoilers)

March 19, 2012

This is going to be short and sweet. The Night Eternal is the third, and final, installment in a horror trilogy about vampires, co-authored by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. If you’re interested in this (and haven’t already bought/rented it), I have to assume you have read the first two parts of the trilogy and you’re probably up to speed on Del Toro and Hogan’s take on vampires being the result of parasitic worms and nuclear winter being thrown over the earth.  This picks up two years after The Master nukes the origin sites of the other ancients, quickly picking up the strings of the resistance led by the fighters we have come to know in the first two books. The primary love story takes a step to the side a bit, which wasn’t all that unexpected, and The Master is having fun raising his new host, Ephraim’s son.

The world as The Master had envisioned it has pretty much come to pass. Anyone of any power or status has been killed, massive bleeding and breeding farms have been set up, and the human race has, by and large, acquiesced. Now, does any of this really matter? Not at all. truth be told, the end doesn’t particularly matter much, either.  In general terms, the end result for everyone falls roughly into line of what you would expect to happen for everyone. In my opinion, nothing really comes out of the blue in these regards.

But that’s also not the point of the story. The real point of the story is that it is an origins story. I  get the impression that Del Toro and Hogan knew there was only so much they could do with the characters moving forward. There are only so many ways a story like this can end, and really just one way (bad guy loses).  the real meat of the story had to come from something else, and that place was the history of The Master and the other Ancients. The idea of vampires having fallen from God isn’t exactly new, but tying them directly to angels, and then tying it into the mythical destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was fun and interesting. Then bringing that around at the end, with the death of The Master, was a nice way of wrapping up the trilogy.

Perhaps like any good trilogy, it also left us with the possibility of another sequal. The implications that vampires would no longer be around to pull the strings and push civilization in a direction that wouldn’t just careen out of control in an ugly death spiral was something that seems to have some legs, though it’s also ground that could just as well be covered by things like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Del Toro and Hogan do hint at a rosier outcome than the bleak trek to a dead sea that McCarthy envisioned, though.

So, if you liked the first two, go ahead, finish off the trilogy, it’s worth the few hundred pages. If you’ve held off on the trilogy and you’ve stumbled across this review, go, and check out the first two novels and get up to speed. To me, this is a pretty rare thing right now, a not-crappy horror series that manages to stay somewhat true to the genre and the subject matter, while also adding its own twists and innovations to make the work unique, special and a worthy addition to the field.

The Fall by del Toro and Hogan – a review

September 13, 2011

I owe a lot to the horror genre, and specifically Stephen King. Grades 1-5 took a lot of time and care to bludgeon out of me any joy that I got from reading. I was put into special reading groups, so I had to miss movies the rest of the grade got to see. I had to read books only two or three other people had to read. My spelling lists were different. My entire school experience was different from probably 95% of my classmates. My response was to say to hell with it and morph into one of the laziest (though still high grade attaining, which was quite the feat), most put off students you could find. I wasn’t put enough to quit doing the work, just enough to do it sloppily and as averagely as I could. Unfortunately, this was a lesson that I am still unable to entirely shake, as I still find myself wanting to default to “not give a shit mode.”

Thankfully, Stephen King (specifically, his Eyes of the Dragon novel) rescued my interests at some point in middle school and I took up reading again. Truth be told, I’ve never been overly interested in the horror genre outside of King. I tried Koontz, but couldn’t get into it. Lost interest in Lovecraft, and enjoyed the occasional zombie anthology. There was a brief time when I really dug Phil Rickman, but suddenly his books quit appearing on the bookshelves. Though intermittent reader, I’ve always kept at least half an eye turned towards the horror section, looking for something new and interesting.

I found it with the first book of what’s promised to be a trilogy, The Strain. It was original, returning vampires to the ugly, brutal cloth that I think they were originally meant to be before they were sanitized and made glittery.  It was a breath of fresh air for a subject that had simply lost me.

Reading The Fall, the newness of the approach is, as expected, gone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does force the novel to stand on its own feet in a way the first novel didn’t have to bother itself with. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite hold up its own weight. The people you expect to die, do. Those you expect to live, do. And it clearly leaves off in preparation for a third act, so any great revelation isn’t to be expected.

Where the third book goes, is still up in the air. They seem to hint at a somewhat darker turn at points in this novel, specifically regarding Ephraim’s son and the biblical turn his story line appears to take towards the end of The Strain.

There are some larger themes at play in the book. There is certainly a question of obsessions becoming a blinding force, luring characters into actions they feel are necessary but are really foolish and destined for failure, often leading to the loss of loved ones. We see it with Ephraim. We come to see it with Setrakian. We see it with Palmer. We see it with the Ancients.  It’s repeatedly early and often in both books.

Also, there seems to be a lot going on with blood, not just in the sense of nourishment/poison, but in the sense of family, connections and responsibility and it often ties into the idea of obsessions. The vampires introduce their own idea of “blood” and family, and the obligations that go along with it. With the human characters we see varying definitions of what family means and entails, and the sacrifices that go with it. There might really be something here in regards to how the male and female characters treat the idea of familial responsibilities, and the success each gender has at fulfilling the roles they largely self-define.

This idea of family and blood, and the differences along these lines between the vampires (and specifically the ancients) and the humans gains a bit more depth considering the connection between the ancients and their “homes” and between humans and their homes.

Alright, my coffee cup is empty. I’ve been tempted to google some of the stuff from The Strain having to deal with The Master and things Satrakian said, but I actually don’t want to chance upon some part of the story the authors plan on revealing in their own good time. So while there might be more depths to plunge in that direction, they are going to have to be spelunked by someone else. Or if  I am to do it, it will be at a later time after having read the next book.