“The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis

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"The Green Man" by Kingsley Amis. Cover by Brian Frowde.

“The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis. Cover by Brian Frowde.

“The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis, 1969

Finished October 2, 2012

I started this book several times over the years, and never managed to get very far. I’ve finally gotten through it, and gotta say, I should have left it alone. Amis was a famous writer (as his son is now), and the blurbs describe this book as “devilishly cunning” and “hugely enjoyable,” so I suspect time and geography does not dispose me to it. But without a doubt, the reviewer who called this “superb sexual comedy” must have lived a very sad life.

Maurice Allington owns an inn not far from London. He lives there with his second wife, Joyce, and his teenage daughter, Amy, from his first marriage. His ex-wife had died in a “street accident” a year and a half earlier, and Maurice is unable to make a connection with his child. But that is because he is a selfish drunken snotty jerk. After reading this book and finding the character of Maurice to be entirely unsympathetic, I read up on Amis and learned that he was pretty much exactly like this character: A perpetually drunken adulterer. So perhaps in his own mind Amis was writing an admirable fellow, but I was hoping he’d get eaten by bears and save his friends and acquaintances the agony of his continued existence.

Anyway, the Green Man Inn used to be a home owned by an even more unpleasant fellow, a sort of dark magician by the name of Dr. Thomas Underhill. He spent a lot of time raping young girls, and had plans to survive past death. Maurice starts spotting ghosts on his property, and in between bouts of sleeping with his friend’s wife, having stilted conversations with his family members, and drinking ridiculous amounts, he begins to explore the history of his house.

His research leads Maurice to the conclusion that Underhill had certain items and writings buried with him, and he somehow convinces his mistress to help him dig up the grave. Hang on, this is sounding way more interesting than it was. I need to point out that his interactions with people seem so cold and analytical and lacking in even a speck of empathy or fellow-feeling, or emotion of any kind, that even the sex scenes are a chore to read. Perhaps the constant inebriation numbed the writer to the point that he couldn’t really feel anything. Or maybe he was just a cold and selfish ass.

In the grave Maurice finds what he is looking for and he establishes a more stable connection with Underhill. I’m never clear on why he does this, outside of a passive sort of curiousity. At this point, God shows up. No, really. A young man appears in his study, and we soon realize that it’s God, there to drink some Scotch and give Maurice a bit of advice. God makes mention of how he realized his powers at some point, and sometimes it’s a pain, and there are rules he has to follow. When talking about mistakes he has made due to his lack of foresight, he says, “Well, then I was stuck with those decisions and their results in practice. And I couldn’t go back on them; one thing nobody’s ever credited me with is the power of undoing what I’ve done, of abolishing historical fact and so on.” I found this part slightly interesting. Then God tells Maurice that the Church can help him out of the situation he is about to get himself tangled up in, and vanishes.

When Maurice realizes that all Underhill wants to do (in his corporeal form as a giant monster man made out of branches and leaves) is to kill his daughter, he brings in the Parson to perform an exorcism. Underhill begs to be spared but Maurice ignores him, and the evil old pervert winks out of existence. Joyce leaves him after realizing what an irredeemable ass he is after he involved her in a sort-of threesome with his mistress/her best friend, and he goes back to drinking and thinking about maybe someday being a better person. Although the thought clearly wearies him. He truly is looking forward to death as an escape from the trivialities of life. Ugh.

I can imagine this book would be interesting if written by someone else. There is nothing terribly original about the story. Amis plays around with time distortion and hallucinatory images a bit, but the overall feel of the book is very much like the late 60’s and early 70’s. Drab, full of earth tones, too much booze and cigarettes, and annoying, self-indulgent soul-searching. So freaking dreary, like a cold, damp overcast winter afternoon that just won’t end. And you are stuck wearing wet socks. Not recommended, unless you like that feeling.

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“Mockingbird” by Chuck Wendig

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"Mockingbird" by Chuck Wendig. Cover art by Joey Hifi.

Cover art by Joey Hifi.

 

“Mockingbird” by Chuck Wendig, 2012

Finished September 25, 2012

This is the sequel to Wendig’s enjoyable “Blackbirds.” We are back with Miriam Black, who is finding the quiet life with Louis to be grating. She is as acerbic and foul-mouthed as ever, ill-suited to ordinary existence. She has been avoiding practicing her skill – if she touches someone she sees their death – and it has become something of a craving.

For years Miriam was convinced that she could not change anyone’s fate. All her attempts to save people only helped bring about the circumstances of their inevitable death. But in the first book she learned that as long as death had a victim, things could change. In the case of Louis, this was not a difficult choice to make. But in this book, she discovers that things can get a whole lot more complicated.

After preventing a massacre at a grocery store, Miriam is overwhelmed by the need to hit the road again. Louis tracks her down, as he always does, and offers her the chance to read the fate of a woman he knows. She’s a teacher at a school for wayward girls, and once there Miriam soon finds herself faced with several future victims of a ritualistic mass murderer. Ever unable to do things the easy or polite way, she finds herself beaten, kidnapped, beaten, kidnapped again, beaten some more, and forced to deal with the morality of her choices. Along the way she discovers new facets to her abilities.

Miriam is hard to like. She is chronically unable to be pleasant or kind, even to people who are kind to her (especially poor Louis). She drinks a lot, smokes incessantly, and eats truly terrible food. Just reading about her lifestyle gives me a sour stomach. She is without a doubt her own worst enemy, which is saying something given how formidable her enemies can be. But you understand where she comes from and why she is the way she is. It is frustrating to watch her screw things up endlessly. But as unpleasant as she can be, she will fight to the death to save others. She is hard to like, but you gotta love her. And man she can just shake severe head trauma off like nobody’s business.

I love Chuck Wendig’s angry heroes, so I recommend anything by him. However, I found this book lacked a lot of the humour that he had in the first one, and the action felt repetitive. I mean, just how many times can Miriam break into that school before the guard at the gate gets fired? And the damage she can take and still keep fighting is beyond epic. It’s almost Bruce Campbell-like. She is less likable in this, probably because she is just so mean to sweet Louis, but I’d still recommend this. And if you read the first book, you will want to see where fate takes her.

“Autumn” by David Moody

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"Autumn" cover

Cover art by Lisa Marie Pompilio from a photo by Jake Garn

“Autumn” by David Moody, 2010

Finished September 24, 2012

There is some really excellent fiction that gets its start online. It seems to be a great way for authors to build an audience, find their voice, and get the support they need to get published (and paid!). I think this is wonderful. One of my favourite books, “John Dies at the End” by David Wong, has such a history. It is an approach that works well in genre fiction. Well, maybe it works well in mysteries and romances and stuff like that too, but I really don’t have any interest in those sorts of stories. Unless there are monsters and blood and the like. Scratch that, I’ve tried reading urban fantasies that combine these genres. I have developed a quiet hatred for this approach. Not my cup of tea. Anyways, the blurb on the back of this book says that David Moody “used to give his books away for free.” Happily, it seems he is now getting paid for them, and has at least two successful horror series out there in the world and in bookstores.

“Autumn” is book 1 of his zombie apocalypse series. His other series seems to be about an apocalypse of hate, so already I like him. Sadly, I found this book to be a bit boring and, at times, frustrating. The setting is the U.K., which is a nice change from the overwhelming monopoly the Americans have on the zombie-induced end of the world. The apocalypse hits hard and fast, and David takes you straight in to it, no messing around.

A virus is spreading so rapidly and kills so quickly that pretty much everyone is dead, at least in this little corner of the world, within a couple of hours. There are no ill survivors that recover. You are either totally immune or you are dead in seconds. And those that survive are shell-shocked, to say the least. My main complaint here is that it is over too quick. One of my favourite things about apocalyptic books (and I love them way more than is probably healthy) is the breakdown of society and the characters’ struggle to find their place, to adapt. In this, there is no breakdown. Everything is just done and over, and we are left with a few survivors standing in corpse-filled streets, so stunned that they can’t cope. They congregate in a dilapidated community centre, barely able to function. Someone makes soup. No one really talks. And then, a small percentage of the dead get up and start to move around.

At first the reanimated dead are totally mindless. If they walk into a wall, they just stop. Later they seem to learn how to manoeuvre. And after that, they start to attack. Before they become anything more than a creepy nuisance, however, three of the survivors decide that staying in a crummy old community centre isn’t how they want to spend their time. The others seem to find this infuriating, and send them on their way with threats that they will never be allowed back. With a whole world full of empty homes, buildings, grocery stores, etc., and no known threat (at that point), I am not sure why one would choose to stay in a place like that. Thousands of putrefying corpses lying and walking around would send me out into the countryside post haste. And that is where our crew go.

They find a farmhouse, with a generator, which they stock with supplies. They even find a shotgun. Unfortunately, this is also the time that they learn that the dead are now drawn to noise, and they aren’t passive, harmless creatures anymore. And if enough zombies show up, they can make enough noise in the silenced world to continue drawing more and more dead. A note on the dead: They don’t try to eat you, but they will hit and tear at you. If you imitate them you can pass through them fairly effectively. They continue to rot but this does not affect their locomotion, eyesight, or hearing (standard stuff in the genre).

I got a bit frustrated by a few things in regards to the zombies. Firstly, no one even speculates as to what killed everyone and then reanimated some of them. No one asks why they lived, or why only a few of the dead rose. No one wonders why the zombies seemed to get more intelligent even as they continued to rot. No one decides that they should arm themselves, or tries the old “destroy the brain” technique. In this world where no one seems familiar with the concept of zombies they seem to lack any curiousity. There is very little discussion about anything, really. Our trusty band of one girl and two guys just prefer to hunker down, maybe watch a few dvd’s. No one even has sex, or discusses sex. Maybe it’s a British thing. They do cry quite a bit.

So, we are left with watching them have a couple of excursions that don’t go so well. Once the zombies get mean they build a barrier. And of course, this doesn’t keep them out for long. The premise is good, and the writing is ok, but man the characters are uninteresting and largely interchangeable. I had to keep checking the front of the book to keep track of who was who. And there were only three of them! I’ll probably track down the sequels, but I have no burning need to read them. All in all a rather blah apocalypse, sadly.

 

“Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig

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"Blackbirds" cover

Cover art by Joey HiFi

“Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig, 2012

Finished July 2012

Miriam Black is a young woman with a very unpleasant “gift.” If she touches you, she sees how and when you will die. The worst part is, there’s nothing you, or her, or anyone else can do to prevent it. She has tried, and all her efforts only help the event occur exactly as she originally envisioned it. She developed this ability in high school, after a brutal beating and miscarriage, so as you can imagine, this girl has baggage.

Her life is unsettled and harsh. She is constantly moving, hitching rides to wherever and living however she can. In many instances this means finding someone she knows will soon die in order to rob their corpse. It’s a ghoulish life. She hates her ability, but exploring it is often a compulsion. When she shakes the hand of Louis, a gentle giant of a truck driver, she sees that he is soon to be tortured and murdered, and his last bewildered utterance is her name.

At first she runs, but everything leads her back to him, and she is desperate to know what role she plays in his death. She’s a compassionate woman, but also very hard to like. She has had to armour herself, and this takes the form of foul language, rudeness, sarcasm, and anger. She drinks too much and gets in a lot of fights, and even though she fights dirty, she doesn’t always come out on top. She is drawn to danger, which is why when she runs from Louis, she ends up with bad boy Ashley. He’s what gets her and Louis into the fatal mess that she foresaw.

Ashley has been following her. He seen how she is tied to several deaths, but none of them look like murders. He is intrigued, thinking she might be some sort of con-artist, like him. Unfortunately for all concerned, Ashley is also a thief, and the people he has stolen from most recently are merciless. When he blackmails Miriam into helping him out this starts them down the inexorable path to Louis’ death.

Wendig is a very entertaining writer, and there is a lot of humour in what could have been a very bleak book. Miriam has a darkly amusing approach to the world, and her wry observations set the tone. I don’t know how successful he is at writing a female character, because she has a lot of masculine qualities (is quality the right word for it? I don’t know), but she is entertaining nonetheless. And determined. Her perseverance is something to behold. And even though she isn’t likeable I ended up liking her very much. Recommended.