Peter provides periodic reviews of works of horror and science fiction. The range includes old and new works by famous or less well-known authors. The aim is to provide a balanced review of the work, considering its strengths and weaknesses. The reviews represent the opinions and impressions of this reviewer. Any feedback or commentary about the reviews is more than welcome.
Review of Ed Morawski's book, Flit - Five Stars
In Flit, author Ed Morawski artfully tells the fictional story of a truly transformative technological, scientific development: the Instantaneous Transport Protocol (ITP). Unlike the transporter of The Fly or Star Trek, the ITP does not frighteningly disassemble and reintegrate people and things. Rather, it transports humans and objects intact through a parallel universe from one place to another in our universe, theoretically at any distance- in four seconds flat.
After the US government attempts to cover up and destroy the initial NASA sponsored research, a small tech company clandestinely acquires the surviving ITP files. The company then develops and successfully publicly tests the ITP in San Francisco and elsewhere, causing a huge stir. The plot deepens as the federal government clashes with California and with the company and its powerful, seductive investor to gain control of the device.
Flit is a highly original, absorbing sci-fi work. The science and tech behind the ITP is so convincingly presented, the device almost appears feasible, as if it could be built in reality. Unlike some sci-fi stories, Flit does not pursue the dark and ominous forces that could be potentially unleashed by the ITP’s accessing unknown universes. Rather, the story explores the plausibly massive effects of such revolutionary technology on society. The effects of the ITP are not just dealt with abstractly but also in how the device changes the lives of individual people, including the many secondary characters of the story.
Overall, Flit is a worthy read, especially for more technologically oriented sci-fi fans.
Review of Sean Benham's Book, White American
In White American, author Sean Benham transports the reader into a bizarre, pseudo sci-fi America divided into districts based on skin colour. The story is a clever, cutting satire on organized religion, the abuses of political power, bigotry, society’s erotic preoccupations and the misuses of medical science (by the ghoulish Dr. Timothy and his heir).
Much of this boils down to an incisive commentary on humanity’s penchant for cruel and exploitive behaviour towards its members, excluding the top dogs, of course. Yet, there are some tantalizing rays of hope in the apparent redemption of one of the story’s main characters in the tale’s closing moments.
Many adjectives can be applied to this story: surprising, funny, irreverent, insightful, and gross but never boring.
The plot can be a little confusing at the beginning, but overall, White American is a creative and engaging work, well worth the read.
Author Mark Ferguson skillfully transports the reader into a fantastical world of overlapping dimensional realities- a threatening world with alliances and adversaries among their various, sentient species and cultures, which are often exotic and sometimes bizarre.
The plot often involves dark intrigue, and foreboding mystery is well maintained throughout. The language is often evocative and the dialogue flowing and natural.
The reader may be challenged, at times, by the complexity of cultural/historical detail and the amount of interpretive thinking by characters about one another. On the other hand, some readers might regard this complexity as augmenting the richness of the story’s context and characters.
Overall, Terra Incognita is a worthy read, especially for sci-fi enthusiasts looking for a highly unusual and original story.
Review of Mark Ferguson’s Book, Terra Incognita- Five Stars
Review of Stephen King’s The Dark Half (This is not a spoiler)
On the surface, the main character of the book, Thaddeus Beaumont, is a person of responsibility and integrity– a writer, family man, and university teacher of creative writing. However, he has a dark side to his personality, from which he has written a number of popular, violent novels. These have been published under the pseudonym of George Stark. Thad has gone so far as to create a fictitious biography of Stark.
Under threat of being exposed, Thad decides to write solely under his own name and tries to get rid of George Stark in a mock burial. Soon after, the vicious murder of Beaumont’s caretaker happens near the family’s summer home, not far from Castle Rock, Maine. Thad’s fingerprints are found at the murder scene, and this makes him the prime suspect. However, he has an unshakeable alibi, making it impossible for him to have been with the victim at the time of the murder. This, of course, confounds the investigating sheriff, Allan Pangborn (who struggles to comprehend the incomprehensible throughout major portions of the story).
The reader learns that George Stark is now more than a “buried” pseudonym. He has somehow come alive and has begun a murderous rampage, inexorably leading towards Thad and his family.
There are also mysterious forces in the background with the potential to affect, in unknown ways, the chain of events between Thad and the incarnated Stark.
The plot plays on an interesting variation of the evil, dissociated personality found in horror stories and, generally, is quite creative. While Stark is rather like Mr. Hyde in his ruthless, sinister nature, he differs in that he materializes in his own body (although he still maintains a mysterious connection to his co-personality, Thad). Unfortunately, the reader is left wondering how exactly Stark managed to perform this metamorphosis from personality part to full, physical being.
There is also a rather vague, suggestive explanation in the book of how the dark side of Thad’s personality formed in the first place. The reader is asked to believe that somehow Thad absorbed a twin in utero and that parts of this twin ended up in Thad’s brain (and by extension, his personality?).
King also misses the boat in that he excludes socio-psychological factors in the formation of Thad’s dark side. Thad might have had a history of abuse or abandonment, for example. Including these might have led to further dramatic possibilities in the story, such as a conflict between Thad’s dual personality sides as he grew up. This background might have set the stage better for the emergence of the vengeful, hostile George Stark.
On the positive side, King once again shows his ability to create the ultimate experience of pure horror, which more than makes up for any shortcomings in the story. The murders carried out by the psychopathic Stark are intense, sadistic, and violent to the nth degree, terrifying the fictional victims and the reader alike. King’s use of lurid imagery and his expertise at developing mystery and suspense play no small role in this.
On the whole, despite some weaknesses, The Dark Half is still a respectable book in its genre, even after three decades since it was written.
Review of Anne Rice’s Interview with The Vampire
This novel was my introduction to Anne Rice’s writing. It is a most unusual book, set largely in and around exotic, old New Orleans and historical Paris. The central character, a vampire named Louis, narrates his life story to an unnamed boy, who records it throughout. Louis is a tragic figure. We learn he was once mortal, a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner, but was transformed into a vampire by a powerful vampire named Lestat. For various reasons, Louis despises Lestat with a passion, but he becomes an unwilling companion and benefactor to Lestat. However, the story’s major theme is really Louis’ hatred of his own vampire nature; the act of killing is utterly evil and abhorrent to him, but he must kill to survive. This is the dilemma that Louis must solve.
The book focuses, in an often fascinating, almost hypnotic way, on the introspections, feelings and experiences of Louis as a vampire and on his conflicted relationship with others of his kind. The reader encounters, among other things, vampire love, gained and lost, and Louis’ search for his identity.
The imagery and figurative language can be beautiful and powerful, conveying the special, heightened senses of the vampire. However, this imagery can be overdone and lapses into flowery, overly complex passages. Also, while Louis’ introspection is a unique strength of the book, and often allows the reader to relate empathetically to him, this has also been overdone. Louis’ inner conflicts can become tiresome, at times. Furthermore, the journeys into the psyches and relationships of the vampires too heavily outweigh the story’s action scenes. That being said, when action scenes do occur, they are well done and gripping. There are just too few of them, in my opinion.
Creating a police investigation of the bizarre, vampire-related murders in New Orleans might have added an interesting track to the story. Suspense could have been built around the police getting ever closer to the vampire perpetrators, perhaps led by an insightful inspector or detective. This would have given Louis another compelling reason to travel away from America to Europe and might have helped to balance out the introspective and action elements.
The book is disturbing in its very vivid, intense descriptions of vampire feedings and violence. It also crosses taboo boundaries. Children are victims and objects of a weird kind of non-sexual eroticism. There is also some sacrilegious behaviour as a priest is killed in his church after confession. Disturbing, too, is the contrast between the festive, carefree night life on the New Orleans’ streets and the invisible vampires who ominously lurk in the shadows, waiting for their unsuspecting victims.
For the more philosophically inclined reader, there is an interesting dialogue between Louis and a wizened vampire about the essential nature of good and evil.
Whether this book is for you depends on what you are looking for as a reader. If you like a good balance between introspection and action and prefer a tighter, simpler style of expression, you might very well pass on this novel. However, if you are very psychologically and relationship inclined, are looking for another reality to immerse yourself in, and don’t mind crossing taboo boundaries, this book could be quite exciting.
Review of Jack Finney’s The Invasion of the Body Snatchers
This story is narrated by one of its protagonists, a small-town California doctor. Mystery begins early in the novel as the doctor receives reports that the relatives of some of the townspeople are no longer the same people but are imposters. Disturbingly, the imposter reports in town multiply rapidly.
The mystery deepens and horror begins with the discovery of a strange body in the home of a local author and his wife. The body is perfect in all respects, with no apparent cause of death, no “character” to it and bizarrely, no fingerprints either.
The horror and suspense evolve with the discovery of another “blank” body and the protagonists begin to believe there is a link between the bodies and the imposter reports. They know that they themselves are threatened (and possibly the whole town) by sinister forces.
The first half of the book is very engaging. However, the pursuit scenes in the latter half of the book, while exciting for awhile, eventually seem overdone. This is tempered by a chilling revelation, at one point, of what is going on in the town, and the reader learns the fascinating premise of the story, which was perhaps unique for a book written in the 1950s. There is also an uplifting message about the indomitable spirit of human kind, as the protagonists fight dark, overwhelming forces, to the last, never giving up.
There are, however, implausible scenes in the story when the weird bodies are first discovered. The protagonists initially make no attempt to contact the authorities. Rather, people are left alone with the bodies at night for unknown or flimsy reasons. While this amplifies the horror elements greatly, it strains the common sense of the reader, especially when one of the protagonists is a physician whose judgement ought to be better.
Unfortunately, there are some scientific faux pas, as well. This is taboo for a sci-fi book, which has to be careful about its scientific basis or at least appear to be so, convincingly. At one point, the author confuses delusions (a psychotic symptom) with neurosis (something quite different). He also seems to suggest that all epileptics have a distinct EEG brain pattern, which is untrue. There are other scientific anomalies which a high school physics student would recognize, but discussion here would give away a key aspect of the book’s plot.
On the more positive side, the author’s writing style, refreshingly uncluttered and direct, makes the book highly readable and clear. The use of some beautiful imagery, based on the author’s obviously good observational powers, also enhances the appeal of the story.
For those who like romance, there is a charming love relationship between the doctor and his former high school girlfriend, who comes back into his life. This may bring the reader back to his/her times of adolescent love and its passions.
All in all, the book is an entertaining read. It offers something for varied sci-fi/horror tastes and gives the reader a chance to enjoy a true sci-fi classic that inspired no fewer than four Hollywood movies over the decades since its publication.
Review of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (This is not a spoiler)
The story’s protagonist, Jake Eppy (alias: George Ambrose) is a twenty-first century man on a quest to change the past. He is intent, among other things, on going back in time to save President John F. Kennedy from being assassinated in Dallas, November 22, 1963. However, the past itself turns out to be the biggest obstacle to his plans. The result is a highly engaging story with many twists and turns. King’s penchant for knockdown horror and well managed suspense and mystery is well represented.
Jake is transported initially to the late 1950s’ USA. This is the fascinating period of big cars, burger joints and the beginnings of rock and roll. Typical of King, much of the story unfolds in small towns, but Dallas and Fort Worth also figure highly in it. We are exposed to the dualities of American life of the period. The racial and class differences of the time are brought out shockingly, as well as its criminal underworld. On the other hand, the reader is uplifted by the heart warming kindness and social spirit of the small town of Jodi, Texas, which Jake comes to call home during his stay in the past. Here, we also encounter the metaphor of the “dance,” which, I think, symbolizes the flow and joy of life. It is in Jodi, that Jake becomes involved in a charming, passionate love relationship with the local high school’s librarian.
Jake is a complex character. One the one hand, he seems a tough warrior who is relentless and sometimes ruthless in accomplishing his goals. However, he can also be a gentle warrior who shows caring and compassion to others, bringing out the best in them.
Throughout the book, we meet many secondary characters from varied walks of life and their stories, including the mysterious “yellow card” man outside the time portal that allows Jake access to the past. While these characters are engaging and sometimes amusing, their details can also be overwhelming at times. This may slow down the plot inordinately. Extra energy is also required from the reader who may be forced to do some backtracking to refresh information about the characters as they continue to pop up in the story. This is not necessarily easy in an 845 page book.
However, there are more important things to note. I think this book is most interesting in its deeper psychological meanings. The book appears to represent a kind of fantasy attempt to undo the trauma, guilt and shame which forever stained the country on that sad November day in Dallas. An assassin’s bullet destroyed a young and promising family’s dreams and a nation’s dreams of the American Camelot. The book also reminds us in a clear, disturbing way about the unpredictability of life, which, in King’s words, “can turn on a dime.”
Overall, this novel is well worth the read.
By: Peter Fratesi (February 8, 2018)