Sam reviews…

Feb.10, 2009, filed under books

This is the view from our window today:

Snowy day

As much as I want to go out and play in the sunshine, or get some training in, I spent most of last night coughing and I’m still producing gallons of phlegm that bears a passing resemblance to fluorescein mixed with cornstarch.

Not only that but Frood is out until half ten tonight, and it’s not like I can go visiting (I can’t walk very far without feeling faint) or have anyone round (I’m contagious). So it’s just me and my nerms (those are ninja germs, for the uninitiated).


It is my habit when trapped at home by nerms to read books. I don’t get much of a chance otherwise. My brain keeps finding other things to do. So far I’ve read James Herbert’s Once and I’ve re-read The Prestige.

James Herbert could be argued to occupy the same position in British horror literature (can I use that word?) as Stephen King does in American, at least in terms of popularity. The problem with Herbert is, to my mind, that he has always tended more towards slasher-fic than true horror. Oh, and the porn. Dear gods. The porn. I mean, I liked him when I was a teenager and still thought that Iron Maiden’s Eddie was just the coolest thing ever, but as I grew older I came to realise that a chainsaw-wielding maniac and some explicit passages about blow jobs do not a horrifying story make.

Once declared itself to be a fairy story, of sorts. I don’t know how it came to be on my shelf, but I knew I hadn’t read it, so I thought what the hell.

I swear that thing was ghost-written. Spelling mistakes. Grammar mistakes. Punctuation mistakes. Quotation marks missing in the strangest places. It fair put me off, I can tell you. But, all that aside, I’m sure that the explicit sex in Herbert’s earlier work wasn’t so, well, gratuitous. I don’t need 4 pages of our hero watching an undine masturbate. Really. Nor do I need almost an entire chapter describing how TEH EEEEBIL WITCH (called a Wicca in this, which I’m sure will delight all the Gardnerians in the audience) conducts lesbian drug rape on the physiotherapist. Including fisting.

No, no, and no. And, lest we forget, the entire plot resolves around the Messiah trope, played absolutely straight and by the numbers. Right down to being loved by the birds and bees, and dear gods, he’s a carpenter! If that weren’t enough, it’s explicitly stated that he is just like Jesus.

Better have a bucket handy.

The prose is shoddy, the story tedious, the pseudo-philosophical ramblings risible. To put it simply, this is one of those books that acts as discouragement to the aspiring writer, because you realise that the only way you’ll ever be a bestselling author is to produce absolute dreck.

And the same thing goes for Priest’s work. Prize winning, this was. Turned into a movie. With Hugh Jackman!

The grammatical structure is sound, and at least I don’t feel like it was written by Stewie from Family Guy with occasional help from Quagmire, as I did with Once. But still. I fail to understand what purpose the modern sections served, apart from to leave the reader with either a sequel hook or the possibility of the protagonist being still alive out there somewhere. None of the main characters provoked any sympathy. Their actions went beyond mere character flaws into a degree of obsession over something these days David Blaine does for free and for which trouble he has burgers thrown at him. The science was absurd, and the entire plot hinged on a MacGuffin that simply could not work. Can we all spell conservation of mass, boys and girls? Handwaving it away as all matter is energy and vice versa fails to take into account Einstein’s famous equation. I doubt Tesla, brilliant as he was, would have been quite so blasé about it.

I couldn’t enjoy it as a story of conflict between two obsessives, because Priest didn’t ever explore why their accounts of their lives varied so much. Besides, I didn’t care about them. I couldn’t enjoy it as a story about illusion versus genuine magic, because the magic was dressed up as pseudo-science and it annoyed me. I couldn’t enjoy it as a story about obsession and the lengths people will go to in order to cover up their secrets because the secondary characters in the story were given too little credit and too little depth. The efforts expended to keep the secrets and maintain the obsessions didn’t have the necessary concomitant feeling of the suffering of those who should be intimate.

And yet this is another bestseller and this one has won awards.

Today I’m going back to Bester and Zelazny. I’m ill. I need something good to read.

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