Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Where were all the Arnold Schwarzeneggers...

...when you really needed them?" 
~Sarah Pinborough (2011). Breeding Ground

Breeding Ground was a surprising read in many ways. It had an interesting story premise, which reminded me of Matheson's "I am Legend" only crawlier. I enjoyed much of the writing, particularly at the beginning, although I felt some of the novel dragged at bit in the middle. Despite that, Sarah Pinborough has an excellent writing voice and many scenes in the story were superb. For some reason, however, this story took a longer time for me to read than other novels I'd read recently. I can't quite put my finger on why. I didn't have that 'I can't put this book down' sensation that I'd had previously with Richard Matheson's stories, or novels by Clive Barker. 

Although Pinborough wrote this story with the kind of monsters I have an affinity for, something in construction of the work and in the prose (in different places) was lacking at times. At the very beginning, I didn't buy off on Matthew Edge's '...I can't tell you how this all happened...' premise, where this horrible 'disease' is suddenly taking over the women of the world. And then to read later that Dr Whitehead, the scientist, says that the disease came about from genetically modified food, was a mental turn off. I think I could have bought it if I'd seen/read some indication of it earlier...but to just have the idea dumped on me in Chapter 16 was a bit much.  And it was inconsistent. Matthew Edge acts as if he had no idea what happened in the Prologue, but then we find out it's humans who created the aberration. I wanted to see the genetic experiment somewhere, to feel it happening, to understand and know about it  instead of having it placed in my lap midway through the novel.

Genius moments for Pinborough were the initial descriptions of the women gaining weight and the subtle changes going on, coupled with the female transformations. I adored reading about Chloe's physical and mental changes, and the overtly gross verbiage of birthing her baby and eating half of it (Why only half, I wondered), but after that things didn't get interesting for me until the battle with the widows at the boy scout hut. Then the amputation of Dave's arm and their finding safety/shelter at Hanstone Park were excellent. The story concept itself, along with the dialogue, was well done. 

Still, there were overly extended/unnecessarily long run-on sentences in this piece that could have been chopped in two to make the story better. It made me think about my own writing and how I need to cut down on lengthy prose. And in some places there were  sentences that I couldn't believe an editor let slide. Take this sentence for example:

 "Another pang of loneliness and heartache stabbed inside, and I hoped that there would be a time when I felt safe and secure enough to allow some time for all the grief inside to come out and then allow me to keep her close inside."

The word "inside" is used three times in the above sentence, and reading it let me see how mistakes like this can pull a reader out of the story and make it less enjoyable. It was definite food for thought.

At one point Pinborough describes the human rules of their small group trying to survive:

"We were like scavengers now—the morality of taking what wasn’t ours no longer applied."
I thought the above phrase was a great line to describe how their social order, the norm of things, had decayed and was replaced with a different philosophy  of existing.  She does this one more time toward the end of the book:

"We’d all reached the conclusion that this was what had to be done, and we needed to see it through together. A new order had taken hold and our old laws no longer applied. I think this was the first day that we accepted that."
 Overall, I thought the work Pinborough did on this was brilliant. She kept tension throughout the story, and the conflict she wove into it was almost continuous. The worst part for me was (honestly) the ending. Unlike Matheson's "I am Legend," (which I frequently compared this story too because the overall concept was the same) this novel ends on a non-conclusive but hopeful note. Perhaps Matt and Rebecca (and the unborn baby) make it somewhere and survive. Perhaps George and Chester arrive at their destination unharmed. 

But the entire premise of the book makes their survival unlikely. The ending wasn't satisfying for me and I can't describe why. It was like a thread hanging from a web...not part of the symmetrical construction, and not completely free. In the end, I wanted to be convinced that mankind would prevail, that this new world order would diminish. I wanted to believe that the human species would go on despite a massive global anomaly. But how long does it take before an anomaly becomes the norm? How long does it take before the web of life that has changed world structure is no longer something terrible and unexplainable, but is instead, a new breeding ground for the acceptable? One thing is for sure... change bites.



Monday, January 16, 2012

"He looked up with the accredited expression for...

...the Asking of Painful Questions."  (The Funeral by Richard Matheson)

     After reading "I am Legend," I expected this short story to deal with the monstrous case of the vampire again, and it didn't disappoint. I didn't find this a surprising read, but it was highly entertaining. What made the piece most enjoyable was Matheson's extraordinary use of language and the way he moved from a sedate and serious situation to one of almost perposterous chaos. One moment, there's a barely pulsatile funeral master ready to guide a bereaved customer into the forest of grief and out again with lighter pockets, and in another moment his quarry disappears out a window flapping his wings. This story rapidly stepped across the pictorial line of a believable (albeit macabre) every day situation and leaped a dark chasm to embrace the fantastical and chaotic mosaic of the undead.

     Yes, I'm a sap for Matheson I suppose. Some of his language is overly flowery and some people might consider it borderline purple prose...but his combination of words is set on the page so masterfully that I can't help but read his work over and over again. I've never read any other piece of prose that described a man's eyes as 'liver-colored,' (and having done autopsy, I know what a fresh human one looks like) and I adored the pet names Morton Silkline used for his traditional bereaved-one's process. The "Grieved One's Chair" and "The Asking of Painful Questions" were priceless phrases that gave me a huge amount of insight into Silkline's character and day-to-day life.

     I did wonder at the end if Morton might make it to the realm of the undead himself, since he was considered (potentially) tasty...but then I was pleased and thoroughly enjoyed the ending. Successful businesses are tough because they demand a lot of the business-person. The greater the pay, the greater the difficulty (in one way or another). Whether it be fame and the loss of freedom that comes with it, or serving a clientele that is demanding and that others find less is business and each coin exacts a toll in...all circumstances. 

     Live long and prosper.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

"I'll kill every mother’s son of you...

...before I’ll give in!" 

(I am Legend. Richard Mathson, 1954)

 (Artwork obtained from DeviantArt: Infected 05)


    No one weaves a story like Mathson. His word choice, the chilling phrases he uses to create his setting...his novels are those I crave to read. Works of prose like his are the reason I read until 3AM knowing I have to get up at 5AM for work.

    Like those lusty naked vampires in Chapter 3, I was ready to drink his blood as I read through the pages. The story was completely compelling, but not just the was the language used to tell the story. Sure, I'd seen the movie. I'd never read the novel. I found the written work much more enjoyable (and completely different), and I felt myself grab on to the pace of the story during the early fight scenes, my eyes rapidly scanning the lines while my own pulse quickened with anxiety and anticipation for Robert Neville. I was afraid for his life, despite the fact he was immune to the vampire bite.

"The wound had healed cleanly. But then, he hadn’t been overly concerned about that. Time had more than proved to him that he was immune to their infection." (I Am Legend, Richard Matheson)

 The following are a couple of my favorite quotes in chapter 3 that I think highlighted the very premise of the book:

 "The strength of the vampire is that no one will believe in him.”
(I Am Legend, p. 28, Richard Matheson)

"And before science had caught up with the legend, the legend had swallowed science and everything.
(I Am Legend, p. 29, Richard Matheson)


    While reading I feel compelled to say, I didn't take the main character as a 'whiskey sour' kinda guy. I thought whiskey straight up or scotch or rum at first. Nothing so...complicated. Later Matheson just describes Robert as drinking 'whiskey', but the initial whiskey sour bothered a guy would have all of the ingredients to make one (and maybe he did) or take the time. And what KIND of whiskey was Neville  drinking?  I would like to have known. I, perhaps, would have thought of Matheson, and dear old Richard every time I gulped a namesake shot. I guess that flagrantly shows my mindset when I read.

    What I truly enjoyed about the book was the language Matheson used, his brilliant scene setting and his own unique writing style. The story line was fantastic, the scientific reasoning behind the vampire plague plausible, and many of the little scientific details Matheson wove into the story were fun to read from a medical point of view. I'm a forensic nurse and nurse practitioner/midwife by trade.

     Minor distractors in the prose that were irritating... those things we are taught in writing NOT to do this day and age. Phrases like writing out 'he thought', and no italics on the thought, and some overuse of some adverbs bugged me. Other than that, I thought the work was excellent.

     Story items that bothered me: on page 86 (Kindle edition) Richard discovers (after painstakingly teaching himself medicine and how to use a microscope) that the vampires are created due to an infection ('vampiris' he calls the bacteria) which makes me wonder if it were that simple all along, then why wasn't it discovered by scientists sooner? He also mentions setting 'milk' out for the dog, which I found incredible at first, after 8-11 months of the plague. But then I rationalized as I read. Perhaps he had 'dried' milk and had to reconstitute it. Maybe he had a freezer large enough to freeze some milk. Perhaps some of the milk he drank was canned. I felt better after musing. Then I was suspicious as I wondered how Richard still had drinkable running water, and later I cursed Matheson for killing the dog in chapter thirteen. Cruel, cruel writer!

     An inconsistency bothered me in chapter eighteen, when Richard found Ruth, and later she supposedly took a bath. If her 'tan' was makeup, did she somehow bring some makeup with her? How did she still have makeup on her legs after the bath?

     And so it went, my emotional and clinical reading roller-coaster, until the last. I loved the science that Matheson/Richard took time to learn. I loved reading about the mutation of the vampire race. And I cried at Richard's final realization that he was the last of his kind as he took the pills that helped end his life. And at 1:49AM on January 14th, I finished reading "I Am Legend." The early hour a testimony to how riveting the story was in my brain that I couldn't stop reading; my wet cheeks a mental and physical response to the realization that while all things change...
...compassion is timeless.


(I Am Legend From DeViant Art: by patrickbrown)