Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Round-Up#25 (World Book Day Edition)

Hi there. To celebrate World Book Day, I am going to make this edition a juicy one. So let's begin.

Book Review: The Descent by Jeff Long: Every once in a while you come across a book that is so good, so challenging, that it redefines a genre for you. I know, it doesn't happen a lot. But The Descent is one of these books.

Combing elements of Military Sci-Fi, Adventure and Horror to produce something that is truly unique, this is an astoundingly good novel that is both frightening and thought-provoking. The plot is complex: A new species of underground dwellers - monstrous and cannibalistic - suddenly surface in several locations around the world, leading to an investigation into their underground world, which, the world slowly realizes, bears a strong resemblance to Biblical Hell. This sets in motion a series of events that may lead to the end of the world as we know it, and the re-emergence of Satan himself.

I know that the above synopsis makes this novel seem like a straight-forward horror novel, which this novel definitely isn't. This is an ambitious, genre-bending thriller, that is more interested in juggling thought-provoking theological, scientific and metaphysical questions and ideas, than providing stomach-churning thrills. Don't get me wrong. It is a very scary story, and author Jeff Long delivers the goods when it comes to disturbing and gory set-pieces. But this is not where the heart of this novel lies. No. This novel asks questions and presents moral dilemmas that are as viable today as when this novel was written a decade ago. Long also provides interesting theories about the nature of demonic possession, and the origins of our idea of Hell. But what makes this novel a near-masterpiece are two things: The extremely well-drawn characters, and Long's depiction of Satan. Long's Satan is like nothing you've ever come across before in any film or work of literature. This Satan is truly a terrifying creation; mainly because he feels real, his actions deliberate and devastatingly cruel.

Like a modern day adventure co-written by Jules Verne, Douglas Preston, and Peter Straub, this is an unmissable modern classic.

Book Review: Neverland by Douglas Clegg: I have been a fan of Douglas Clegg's work for some time now; ever since reading The Hour Before Dark (which is thematically related to this novel). Since then, I have read several other works by Clegg, and I've always found his work to be intelligent and entertaining. But nothing prepared me for Neverland, which is now back in print in Mass Market Paperback, with gorgeous interior illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne.

It is, at least on the surface, a coming-of-age horror novel, which are a dime-a-dozen. Stephen King (It), Peter Straub (Shadowland), Dan Simmons (Summer of Night), Richard Laymon (The Traveling Vampire Show), Brian Keene (Ghoul), among many other popular horror writers, have dabbled in this genre. But saying that Neverland is merely a coming-of-age horror tale, is like saying that Henry James was a writer of Victorian dramas. Neverland is so much more than just a coming-of-age horror novel. It combines elements of the Southern-Gothic tale, the coming-of-age horror story, Lovecraftian mythos, and the psychological thriller, to create a novel that is both frightening and deeply affecting.

Ten year old Beau is vacationing with his family in the rundown family retreat when he discovers that his cousin, Sumter, is keeping something in the shed by the house where the family is spending the summer; something that Sumter claims is hungry for blood; a god. Beau doesn't believe his cousin, who has always been a little strange and who has trouble keeping his imagination from going into overdrive. But, bit by bit, Beau begins to realize that there is more to the thing Sumter keeps in the crate inside the shed, the thing which he calls Lucy, than meets the eye. Beau begins to see horrible visions and, as he gets more and more alienated from his family, who, like most grown-ups, are fighting all the time, he begins to feel that Lucy is real. And she is out for blood.

Although it takes a while before Neverland really gets going, once it does, watch out. This is a horror novel that is out to transcend the trappings of the genre. Clegg seems more interested in the psychology of children and how they deal with the dilemma of growing up with nothing to depend on but their innocence and their parents' advice, than in supernatural horror. Indeed, the grown-ups' blindness to what is going on with their children, their narrow-mindedness and their constant fighting, is at times more disturbing than anything that takes place in the shed, where the god, Lucy, lies. This is a dark, disturbing, and surprisingly touching novel, whose power lies in Clegg's astute portrayal of pre-pubescent children who are faced with evil, both within and without. And perhaps that is why that when the the supernatural mayhem is finally unleashed, it doesn't pack the punch it should. Because the inner turmoil of the characters, their struggle to protect their innocence and sanity in a world of flawed and damaged grown-ups, is much more affecting and suspenseful than any fight with demonic creatures. But that doesn't take away from the power of the finale - where a horrible sacrifice is made by one of the main characters - which is tragic and haunting.

A powerful and beautifully written novel about children struggling with the darkness of life and the pains of crossing over from childhood into adolescence, Neverland is bound to become a classic.

Film Review: Clash of the titans (2010): The reviews for this remake of the 1981 classic haven't been kind. They claim that the film is underwhelming, incoherent and dramatically flat. Are these claims true? Well, sort of. But that doesn't make this effects-laden adventure a bad film. Not even close. Let's face it. When you go to watch a film that is called Clash of the titans, and which is a remake of a popular, but silly, 1981 film, and which is directed by the director of The Incredible Hulk, then you have to temper your expectations and know what you are getting yourself into. It isn't going to be high-art. But it should be fun, which this film certainly is.

With monsters and battles aplenty, Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson at their hammy best, and some amazing special effects and production-design, there is much to enjoy. And thanks to Louis Letterier's kinetic direction, the film is always visually interesting and the pace never lags. Yes, the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Yes, the performances aren't great. And yes, the film feels a tad rushed. But it succeeds as a mindless action-adventure that's stylishly designed and thrilling. Grab some popcorn, turn off your brain, and let the mayhem begin!

Extra! Disappearance: This edition's Extra! selection is the 2002 film Disappearance, directed by Walter Klenhard. Ghost Towns, unexplained goings-on, and a creepy finale, make this stylish thriller a must for fans of The Twilight Zone and its ilk. An obscure oddity that is worth hunting down.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves, and Happy World Book Day!

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