Saturday, June 27, 2009

"this time, they're gonna take me with 'em."

whether or not you want to go. that is, at least, the general thrust of guillermo del toro and chuck hogan's the strain, the first of the apparently now unavoidable trilogy of vampire infection novels which i read on friday afternoon.

fair warning: spoilers lurk below. read at your own discretion. and it is worth reading, so if you have any plans so to do, bookmark this and come back later.

for about the first 140-150 pages, i don't know if you could distinguish the strain from any reasonably well-written police procedural along the lines of, say, a lynda la plante or douglas preston/lincoln childs effort. there's almost a feeling of "by god, we did this research and you are going to friggin' well know about it!" there are some flashback sections written from the point of view of the van helsing-style character about his previous encounters with something large, nasty, and bloodsucking, but they're pretty vague and almost more distraction than they're worth.

there are some good scares in here, though -- the sequence with the "dead" plane sitting on the runway at jfk has more than one. the descriptions of the darkness inside the plane are almost lovecraftian. and we don't get too bogged down in what i have to imagine in real life would be an incredible post-9/11 labyrinth of red tape which might keep anyone from doing anything until the vampires are crawling up the struts of the golden gate bridge, having taken a leisurely cross-country stroll to get there.

there are also shadows of bones -- although this might just be me because bones and merlin are my new brain candy friends -- in the lengthy forensic dissection scenes as well as shades of salem's lot in what the infected characters do. i won't say that what happens with the "dead" bodies isn't predictable because, well, it is. you've read dracula? any laurell hamilton novel? any stephen king? great -- then you know that not all corpses are as corpse'y as they may appear. no big shock there, really. but the penultimate reveal for this in a midnight forensic lab with the single doctor working to discover what it is that's in the blood of all these weirdly perfect corpses he's just been handed as the silence gathers around him is really creepy.

there are some great secondary characters -- i found that the mexican gangboy, gus, was almost more compelling than the hanger-on to our doctor protagonist who seemed like a "we need a chick in here somewheres" character. i hope to see more of him in the follow-up novels (and, presumably, the inevitable movie.) the four infected characters who escape hospital surveillance and return to their homes, thus providing the first wave of vampiric infection, are also really good. i think i particularly liked the one man who had to return home to a deeply mentally disturbed wife, two children, and two dogs, and spends his slow downhill slide into bloodlust trying not to eat his saint bernards. there's also a great scene later in the novel where his wife, trying desperately to cope with a situation she is just totally unprepared for, comes up with a novel way of getting rid of an annoying neighbor.

the vampires themselves are interesting. they're not so much fanged bloodsuckers as giant leeches on feet; they don't have fangs or sharpened teeth or nails, rather a large "stinger" under the tongue and in the throat which serves the same purpose. the preliminary symptoms are described with some relish as being like the onset of a bad bout of flu: sore throat, high fever, headache, etc. i found i got really thirsty reading it because two of the infected characters were giving such vivid descriptions of how much they wanted something to drink; of course, we as readers can watch from the outside and enjoy our secret knowledge that, no matter how much fruit punch, poland spring, or double malt scotch they knock back, it won't do the job.

the "stinger" was a new idea for me -- i don't know if there's something out there in the vampire canon i've missed; very likely this is the case -- but it presented another issue that i wish del toro and hogan had dealt with or at least mentioned: the vampires can't talk. there are, as there always are, older generation vampires or elders or what have you, who are more human in appearance, more in control of their thirst, and able to communicate with humans and, presumably, other vampires, but other than that we mostly seem to just have a headless horde of berserkers with big stingers and really poor bodily hygiene. the first four infected characters -- bar one -- become slightly more powerful servants for the vampire elder, but they can't communicate either and they're barely more in control of themselves.

i don't know why, but the idea of this whole army of vampires who can't talk, can't communicate with each other or with their prey in any way, just frustrates me. i at least want some acknowledgement that this is an important point -- in their development into something non-human or their "death" or something. or it would be nice to know that they communicate by scent or telepathy or the elder is in charge of the whole lot or something. all of these i would have bought more or less without question; the rest of this world was built convincingly enough that i'm willing to go with it. even if the authors had wanted to have their vampires totally other, completely non-human, who says they have to speak english? the vampires in 30 days... had that great predatory, avian, screechy thing going on which clearly served as some kind of language but was nowhere near english.

the only other real issue i had with the whole thing was the flashbacks from the van helsing character. his entire backstory involves his first encounters with this vampire elder in the treblinka concentration camp as the vampire feeds his way slowly through the prisoners. this made me slightly twitchy. i'm not one of those people who thinks you can't write about the holocaust or shouldn't or it shouldn't be used for fiction or anything like that and, as far as i can tell, the authors described the camp accurately and didn't fuck about with the actual historical facts other than adding in the vampire. but -- i don't know. it seems gratuitious to take an event that's absolutely chock to the brim with good ol' fashioned human evil and top it up with supernatural nasty. there's no suggestion that the vampire was in some way in charge of the camp or running the show or anything like that; if anything, he's hiding from the guards as much as the prisoners try to because he doesn't want to be found either. but...still. there was something slightly uncomfortable about it and i was glad when that bit was done.

on the whole, though, excellent summer reading; i'll look forward to the second one.

edit: i knew i missed something. there was another book this reminded me of and it took me 'til halfway home along the esplanade today to think of it -- david wellington's monster... series (island, nation, planet -- all fully worth the read if you're feeling the need of a zombie gore fix). the vampire elder in the strain plays a similar role to gary in the first and last of the monster... books. that was it. i feel better now.

p.s. and if anyone is curious, the subject line quote is from 30 days of night -- the stranger talking to eben oleson.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"i'm out of it for a little while and everyone gets delusions..."

okay, i really do have zero (0) time to be blogging this week because i have a draft of a thesis section due friday and the little fucker is just refusing to sit down and co-operate and be written.


during my daily sifting of rss feeds and websites that i look at every morning, i caught this blogger's rant about the l.a. times and san diego comic con. and i thought, "gosh. what the hell can the l.a. times have done that's so bad? and comic con? aren't they pretty much niftyness on a stick?"

(and i have to admit i also thought, "wow, it's a bad week to be a newspaper ending in the word 'times', because the london times got forced to out some poor blogger from the lancashire police force and the judge in the case is affected with loony virus." possibly more deadly than h1n1. there's also a really good reaction to the case verdict back there at that link you just passed.)

anyway. not the point. ahem.

i clicked into the link, read it, and thought things, well, things that i won't write here because they are very profane and, as the internets might describe it, "nsfw." mostly i thought, "what the fuck? aren't we all over this now, children? why, oh, why are we going back to the dark days of the late '80s? i thought we were all over this 'girls only like scifi with hot guys in it' crap. aren't we? c'mon, guys -- aren't we?"

and so, because i like -- unlike which, after the absolutely insane contest they chose to co-sponsor can just "bite my shiny metal ass" -- i clicked into the link of their article.

after a few minutes spent in taking the glory of the quotes they chose to excerpt from the times, i swallowed about half my cup of coffee, hung grimly on to the second half, and clicked into the primary source as it were.

let me say first off that anywhere there are squealing twilight fans, i will not be. i haven't read the books; i haven't seen the movies; i plan to remedy neither of those defects. the fans scare me, honestly, and i feel i've heard and read quite enough about them; i'm not a ya librarian; and i have a long reading/viewing list already (which does include true blood, because it was recommended to me). even michael sheen, wonderful though he is, will not bring me to watch the new twilight movie.

there are 23 pages of this rubbish starting off with a long paragraph about all the male celebrities currently considered attractive who may -- or may not -- be present. it's set up like a slideshow: publicity photos -- for the most part -- captioned with little snippets by bloggers from sites like, and and just for the record, i have no desire to do jake gyllenhaal's laundry. none. at all. i assume he can either hire someone or buy a washing machine.

take, for example, this representative piece of text illustrating a still from the upcoming film version of the time-traveller's wife:
"Picture the wonderful sappiness of "The Notebook," replace Ryan Gosling with equally appealing Eric Bana, and inject a different hapless conflict to keep him from Rachel McAdams. In this case, Bana's character's got a gene that causes him to leap through time without the wife. Oh yes, bring on the bittersweet tears."
thank you for informing me neatly and succinctly that i should avoid this movie at all costs. when's 9 coming out again?

while i am pleased to see that alex o'loughlin found work post-moonlight and that sounds like a movie i will see, this
"What more do you need than the hunkiest Aussie to ever play the undead ... alive and in the flesh? And as long as he uses his real accent, he can talk all about this murder mystery set in Antarctica. Male lead Gabriel Macht isn't too shabby either."
really just doesn't sell it for me and i feel bad for o'loughlin being described in these terms. he's better than that and the review reduces him to his physique, much as the snippet on prince of persia and the one on benicio del toro in the wolfman reduces gyllenhaal and del toro to theirs. a shame in all cases since all three men deserve better.

i really got bogged down around slide 10 or so after i was told that the only reason i would go to see tim burton's new alice in wonderland was because johnny depp was in it. lovely photo to illustrate a totally moronic point. the photos which don't actually have the caption text suggesting the male actor in question will be mobbed like the beatles by female fans are for children's movies -- where the wild things are, toy story 3 -- which suggest that women will be interested in these either because they can take their kids or because they're fluffy, happy fun; or they're looking for a chicklit/flick-style experience with a witches of eastwick adaptation that sounds like charmed-redux. (if you miss charmed, go rent the dvds. better yet, watch early buffy. better yet, watch firefly, farscape, or torchwood. don't thank me; it's all part of the service.)

did it ever occur to anyone writing this rubbish to check with an actual female person who was actually going to the con and ask why she -- or they! find a group! make some friends! -- were actually going? i mean, i'm sure people -- of all genders, sexes, or personal convictions -- show up because jake gyllenhaal is hot or alex o'loughlin has a cute accent, but i'm equally sure that more people show up because they want to hear about the shows or the movies or the books or the comics. that being, y'know, the point of the thing.

the con didn't sell out because brad pitt might show up to push a quentin tarantino movie.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"i can help spread the pain!"

my chrome window is just overflowing with tabs of nifty things and since i learned my lessons from mr. rogers and sesame street about sharing well, here we go:

  • superman is dead and we killed him. rather cynical short article about the dearth of good guys. i don't spend a lot of time mourning the death of the boy scout, really, but this is worth skimming through.

  • guardian article on film villains. this is sort of like part two of the previous article with a little more expanded argument. thomson wants to argue that modern film glorifies the villain at the expense of a moral lesson. i'm not sure i buy it (critiquing a movie that hasn't come out yet is a bit of a cheap shot), but he uses some interesting movies to make his point. and along the same movie lines, a rather interesting article about the development of the zombie over the years.

  • guardian review of the city & the city which i have sitting on my shelf. i read the first six chapters in the cafe of the borders on newbury. i'm not sure it's going to frame up to shoulder out either the scar or iron council which are my favorites of mieville's writing so far, but i haven't finished it yet. and a further review from

  • these aviary tools i haven't had a lot of time to play with yet, but it looks like an interesting set of browser applications: a word processor, graphics program, etc. free, shareware, yaddayadda -- insert all the nifty webwords here.

and this

is kind of how to drive a movie geek nuts. if it moved a bit faster, it would be absolutely how to drive anyone nuts. the background music they added is a little distracting but as a way to spend a couple of minutes and really be horrified by how many movies you know, it's not bad.


i've been hearing about the teaser trailer for guillermo del toro's the strain for a couple of days but, bar using it as a reminder to put myself on the hold list for the book at the bpl (fourth place, not bad), i hadn't bothered to watch it until i saw it posted today on one of the blogs i read sporadically. 

if nothing else, i like it because the elderly english gentleman in it reminds me of william hartnell, the first doctor who.