Sunday, August 16, 2015

Blast from the Past Book Review: THE WOLFEN (1978)

Back when I was living in McDonough and working for The Griffin Daily News, I checked out from the library an ancient copy of Whitley Strieber's 1978 debut horror novel The Wolfen, which in 1981 was adapted into a questionable horror film featuring Edward James Olmos. This was either before The World According To Quinn or when the blog was in its infancy, so there was no review then.

Well that's about to change...

The left is the cover of the first edition, which I got from the library.
The cover of the Kindle book I now own is on the right.

The Plot

Two police officers are ambushed and killed by unknown attackers in a New York City junkyard in the late 1970s. Ambushed, killed, and at least partially eaten. The cranky old-school detective George Wilson and his female partner Becky Neff investigate and soon discover that the killings weren't the work of attack dogs, but something far worse. In New York, human beings are not at the top of the food chain, and the creatures that are don't take very kindly to the threat of their existence being exposed...

The Good

*The protagonists figure out very early on what they're dealing with and that they're being hunted. Yes, the antagonists of the story (I hesitate to call them "villains" because they're predatory animals acting according to their nature--they're not human beings who have chosen to do evil) are intelligent enough to recognize witnesses and try to eliminate them. And Neff and Wilson are smart enough to take precautions, so we get this gigantic cat-and-mouse game involving the titular monsters and two human detectives across late 1970s New York.

*There's a strong 1970s vibe to the book, which makes sense given when it was written. Neff is one of the few female police officers dealing with something as important and public as homicide and she has to deal with a skeptical partner and a generally skeptical police force. New York City is depicted as being a cesspool of decaying neighborhoods and crime, which it became in the 1970s. One character is a police officer on the take from a gambling syndicate, which was also an issue in the 1970s.

*Strieber's antagonists are one of the more creative horror monsters I've ever seen. They're not werewolves, although they're the origin of the werewolf legend. They're not a pack of conventional wolves that have adapted to city life the way coyotes have. They're an entirely new set of beings, and if they were real, they'd be incredibly, incredibly dangerous.

*And one character's visit to the library reveals a new horror--not only do werewolves have a factual basis, but so do vampires. A 100% human basis (unlike the werewolves), but an extremely creative and creepy one. This might come off to you like monster overload, but I promise you, it's not. It's really quite clever. The library visit also touches on how these creatures might adapt to various historical periods and how different human cultures would adapt to them. Strieber even touches on Native American culture (and possible awareness of the creatures), something that I suspect inspired the Native American cultural stuff that made it into the film version.

*The scenes from the monster's points-of-view are really well-done. No goofy infrared monster-vision here. It's poetic and fascinating.

*The book moves along pretty quickly. Like I said my in my review of The Flock that I wrote last Christmas-ish, it didn't take too many elliptical sessions to finish this. It's never boring.

*The book is legitimately creepy in many places. I'm fairly inured to movie/book scares, so if I thought this, you, dear reader, will probably be quite scared. The ending in particular gave me the chills.

The Bad

*There's a fair bit of telling and not showing in the book. Sometimes telling is necessary (as Mary Robinette Kowal pointed out in the podcast Writing Excuses with an Inigo Montoya quote from The Princess Bride, showing can take too long and sometimes a writer needs to sum up), but there could have been more showing. The places where telling could be replaced with superior showing seem most prominent in the beginning, but there are instances toward the end as well. To be fair, this is Strieber's first published novel, so I can be more forgiving.

*I would have liked more scenery description. In Tom Wolfe's novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, we get a portrait of New York City at roughly the same time (or perhaps a little bit later) and the descriptions are much, much more vivid.

*A love triangle starts to come on partway through the book, and so somebody has to die. Strieber reveals some less-savory aspects of the man's character during the last third of the book to make his doom more palatable, stuff that I didn't think was adequately foreshadowed. He does have a pretty impressive death though.

The Verdict

A great debut novel of a writing who did a lot of good work in the horror field before focusing on a new interest in UFOs. Hopefully someday he'll come back. A sequel to The Wolfen describing what happens in the aftermath of the (literally) world-changing ending would be really interesting.

After all, I've heard the competition between humans and the cave bears for habitat in the face of the oncoming Ice Age described as mankind's first war, so some late 1970s/early 1980s equivalent involving the titular monsters would be a fun book to read.

9.0 out of 10.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Two New ASOIAF AU Stories for You

The alternate-history discussion forum has spawned two more interesting alternate-universe stories set in the realm of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. One of them is a do-over story with an interesting twist, while the other is a more conventional what-if.

"The Northern Giant"-In this story, Sansa Stark poisons Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish with the strangler poison she had in her hairnet at the lethal wedding of Joffrey "Baratheon" to Margarey Tyrell sometime after he says her father was a good man but a poor player in the game of thrones. This is something I've seen in fan-fic and in predictions for the next book before (the remaining poison is a Chekhov's Gun waiting to be fired), but not what happens next...

The dying Littlefinger wakes up nearly two decades the body of Eddard "Ned" Stark the morning of his wedding to Catelyn Tully during Robert's Rebellion.

Now Littlefinger has everyone and everything he's ever wanted--power, respect, and Catelyn as his wife. He's also got all of Ned's experiences and memories, which could have some interesting consequences. He might find himself with honor and a conscience not deadened by years of bitterness and scheming, something that could make his evil-masterminding more complicated.

Plus the Battle of the Trident is looming. Hopefully his knowledge about what's to come will come in handy...

The Falcon's Last Cry-This diverges from canon when the dying Jon Arryn manages to warn King Robert Baratheon that "his" children are really bastards produced by incest between his wife Cersei Lannister and her twin brother Jaime. Robert is fortunately intelligent enough not to immediately warhammer them both, but this is something that needs to be dealt with quickly. Shenanigans and bloodshed within the Red Keep will be coming soon.

I like what the author does with Littlefinger in this story. Littlefinger's master plan is to sow strife in order to advance his own position (in addition to whatever it is he's been doing with the kingdom's money), not simply "keep Stannis off the throne" (his reason for betraying Ned in canon) or supporting the Lannister regime that has given him honors and power. Who knows the slippery little twerp will be up to this time around?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Writing Plan for the Coming Year-ish

In a little over a week, I will start a new job--in fact, an entire new career--putting an end to years of graduate school and part-time freelancing. This will drastically cut into my time for personal writing projects, blogging, etc.

This means that you will be seeing a lot fewer blog posts, movie reviews, etc. here. I will continue being part of Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, but I won't be reviewing every movie we watch like I've been doing. I will also write posts linking to the podcast The Geekly Oddcast put on by The Brothers Herman, but since Geekly Oddcast records on weeknights, I'll probably be doing that less often than Myopia. I will have less time for my personal writing projects, so there will fewer updates on those.

Speaking of my personal writing projects, here is the plan for some of them.

*I intend to finish two additional stories featuring my supervillain protagonist Andrew Patel and release them as a four-story electronic collection Consequences that will also include the first story ("√úbermensch")and the second "Needs Must." I have partially written both, with more progress made on the fourth story (which will ultimately tie Patel with the world of my Lovecraftian novel The Thing in the Woods) than on the third. This will be my top personal writing priority aside from selling my completed novels Battle for the Wastelands and Thing.

Here's the cover, which my regular artist Alex Claw made awhile back, to whet your appetite:

I will also be working on a novella entitled "Fairmont," which will take place just over three years before the events of my novel Battle for the Wastelands. My fellow writers James R. Tuck and Delilah S. Dawson both secured book deals that saw the release of novellas for e-readers alongside more conventional print books, while Marko Kloos self-published the short story "Lucky Thirteen"and the novella "Measures of Absolution" alongside Terms of Enlistmentand kept them online even when he got a traditional book deal for Terms. Regardless of whether I go traditional or independent with Wastelands, "Fairmont" would be an excellent way to whet readers' appetites for Battle, much like how "That Thing At the Zoo" preceded Blood and Bullets.My completed novella "Son of Grendel" can come afterward, much like "Spider's Lullaby" came after Blood and Bullets and before Blood and Silver.

I have received some good comments from agents and publishers on The Thing in the Woods (but no bites yet--you'll find out when that happens), so I don't foresee tinkering with the manuscript too much. Depending on how things go with that I might resume work on the sequel The Atlanta Incursion or resume work on the third project I'm holding close to the chest at the moment. I've let that one fall by the wayside due to graduate-school responsibilities, but I've been told by fellow members of my writing group that this project plays to my strengths (world-building and journalistic writing) and, owing to the nature of the project, it's something I could finish more quickly than a conventional narrative novel.