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From The Agony Column
Marshall's 'The Intruders' Reviewed by Ali Karim ; Preview for Podcast Monday, February 5, 2007
Nightmare Killers: Michael Marshall's 'The Intruders' Reviewed
by Ali Karim
The Intruders by Michael Marshall
April 2007 - £12-99 HarperCollins UK
August 2007 $24-99 William Morrow USA
From the creator
of The Straw Men trilogy comes this remarkable thriller which
mixes crime-fiction with a dose of horror, and conspiracy theories
resulting in a sense of dread that reaches a crescendo with a very
perplexing and terrifying climax. What I love about Marshall’s
work is his ‘off-kilter’ view of life and death, which
in 'The Intruders' is at its most menacing.
guess lockiing the door is not going to help.
'The Intruders' starts with an apparently motiveless murder of a mother and
teenage son, by a man who shows no emotion or humanity. This man we learn
is called Shepard and seems controlled by others, not unlike the killers
that populated 'The Straw Men', but with some major differences which are
only revealed at the stunning climax.
Enter Jack Whalen an ex-LAPD cop turned writer who escaped the madness of
Los Angeles for a small town called Birch Crossing on the northern Pacific
Rim. His life with wife Amy, a high-flying corporate executive could not
be better, until an old high-school friend called Gary Fisher calls him and
wants to share a secret. Then things start to get really surreal. Amy goes
missing in Seattle, leaving Whalen to suspect she’s having an affair,
but when she returns, things have changed and so has Amy. Whalen’s
world starts to crumble. Add to the mix a missing child called Madison [who
exhibits psychopathic tendencies] and is drawn to the murderer called Shepard,
more deaths; and a sinister legal firm who operate for multi-million dollar
corporate clients out of [and get this] a rotting tenement building in the
slum district of Seattle, and you have a tale from which dread just seeps
off the page and onto your fingers as you turn the pages. Whalen turns to
Fisher to help unravel himself from the nightmare he finds encircling him.
At its dark heart, 'The Intruders' is a horrific conspiracy thriller. It
mixes Michael Marshall’s parallax-ed view of life, mingling the noir,
with a sense of menace that just grabs you, filling your mind with sheer
dread. There is an element of Horror and perhaps a little Science-Fiction
hidden in the tale that makes you question what you consider is the relationship
between your life, and your death – and what existence may actually
I really cannot say any more lest I spoil the big surprise that sits at the
end of this novel, like a demon clutching a handgun pointing directly into
your face. But deep in the narrative is a feeling for humanity, and what
loss can mean to those who have most to risk – their loved ones. I
just loved this book - Ali Karim
A Chilling Terror
I'm posting another MP3
preview audio trailer for Monday's podcast today. I hope listeners
enjoy this and will be tuned in for the upcoming podcast.
02-01-07: Minister Faust Reads 'From the Notebooks Of Dr. Brain'
Men of Steel, Women of Iron
and the science fiction genre have a weird relationship. In some
sense, most superhero comics are science fiction, or at least they
nod in the general direction of SF. Like, "OK, yeah, he's got
superpowers because he's an alien," or, "He can
do all this stuff because he got exposed to radiation." In
science fiction, there might be some more sensible explanation to
all this, or the readers would simply think the writer was either
a)stupid or b)lazy. In many (not all, I know, not all) superhero
comics, these things are simply Handed Down From On High, which is,
I suppose, is why I never really "got" comics. In fact,
the first comic I read was a Classics Illustrated of 'The War of
the Worlds', so I went straight to science fiction, end of story.
power of super-legs.
Except that, in a real twist of fate, it wasn't the end of the story. The
end of the story came when I read Larry Niven's justly famous, "Man
of Steel, Woman of Kleenex", a short story wherein the writer takes
the powers of Superman and treats them in a science-fictional manner, extrapolating
all sorts of interesting problems should Supes and Lois decide to hook up.
It's a great joke, and the perfect example of the tension between science
fiction and superhero comics.
Minister Faust takes this joke to novel length
with 'From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain' (Del Rey / Ballantine
/ Random House ; February 6, 2007 ; $13.95), and manages to pull
it off by virtue of good writing and about ten bazillion in-jokes.
Dr. Eva Brain-Silverman, AKA Dr. Brain is the therapist for the
superheroes. Her clients, who include The Brotherfly, Omnipotent
Man, The Flying Squirrel, Iron Lass, Power Grrrl and X-Man comprise
the FOOJ: Fantastic Order of Justice. The problem is that justice
has been meted out. The supervillains are either in the pokey
or the madhouse. What do superheroes do when the supervillains
are out of the picture? They obsess. They fret. And eventually,
one of 'em dies, which send the rest of them into a tailspin
of worrying, fretting, problematic exhibitions of superpowers
at inappropriate moments and other entertaining behavior.
'From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain' pretends to be a self-help book for the
normality challenged among us, those of us who simply must simply, like,
fly, and between the plot points offers helpful suggestions for superhero
self-actualization and fighting the supervillain within. This book is chock-a-block
full of fun stuff, with enough referential heft as regards individuality,
social injustice and personal responsibility to keep you high on life. Faust
has a light touch, a heavy hand and keeps the pages turning effortlessly.
That's a good thing, because at 390 pages, this is a thick slab of farce.
It needs those superpowers to get around. But Faust brings his own superpowers
to the table, notably the power entertaining prose. He slings jokes faster
than a speeding bullet, and when he has targets, they're history. Science
fiction and the superhero comics will always be a bit at odds. Science fiction
wants to make you think. Superhero comics want to make you think you can
fly. Minister Faust wants to make you think about your inner needs before
you fly. I want you to think that buying a book with the word "Icondescension".
01-31-07: John Marks Visits 'Fangland'; Podcast of Dragons Get a
Modern Image Makeover
Horror Takes Another Literary Victim
The horror genre
loves literature and the literature loves the horror genre. The tropes
offered by horror don’t require a lot of in-genre education
to use effectively, unlike many of those from the science fiction
genre. Two years ago, we saw Elizabeth Kostova score big with her
debut novel, 'The
Historian', which riffed on the ever-ready vampire trope to create
an effective novel of literary history. Last year, Keith Donohue's
smashing debut 'The
Stolen Child' worked the legends of faerie to enable a character
to look directly upon his life and the life of this nation. 'Fangland'
by John Marks (Penguin Press / Penguin Putnam ;
January 15, 2007; $25.95) finds the author of 'The Wall' and 'War
Torn', a former producer for 60 Minutes, using the vampire trope
to take aim at the message, the media, and everyone involved in either.
were hurt in the making of this cover.
'Fangland' offers itself as a "document, in the spirit of the 9-11 Commission
Report, on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001" from one James
O'Malley, Senior Vice President for Business Affairs, Omni News & Entertainment
Network. Evangeline Harker, an associate producer for a popular television
news magazine show, The Hour, is sent to Transylvania, to investigate the
doings of a crime boss. With a name like that she should have known better.
What follows for readers is a delicious stew, a post-millennial media satire
using the tropes of the vampire novel to draw blood literally as well as
figuratively. Marks fires off his tale with first person narration by Evangeline,
but as the story progresses past that first passionate meeting with Ion Torgu
("'Horror is in the eye of the beholder'"), the emails start piling
up, then the Therapy Journals. You got that right, Therapy Journals from
a gal who is currently having large delivered to the offices from Romania.
It's enough to make you laugh, if it doesn't first kill you. And heck, in
theory, afterwards, you'll be stronger right?
Marks' novel offers fast reading and a plethora of quotable quotes, thought-provoking
nuggets that will leap off the page and into the readers' brain, along with
ample carnage natural and supernatural. He takes his subject seriously enough
to get some seriously funny passages, and some nasty jabs at the world from
whence he emerged amidst the nasty violence inflicted upon those in his narrative.
Marks pulls off visionary surrealism as he toys with the media and the vampires
and readers wonder which is worse.
Readers who are used to finding their horror novels tucked away in some literally
god-forsaken book ghetto will have to be willing to toddle over to the stacks
of books for regular people, who will likely regard the SM-58B-destroying
cover and wonder what the heck it’s all about. One hopes that this
will result in the wide readership a nicely done novel like this deserves,
and that Marks will find the readers who will enjoy him most. This is a novel
that a lot of readers might really enjoy, not just those who hunt the night.
The literary and media satire is razor sharp, the trope is creatively amended,
and the execution is entertainingly unique.
One of the dangers of novels that satirize the media is that the characters
involved are often portrayed as too shallow, but Marks avoids this trap with
lots of details and great prose. 'Fangland' may be satire, but it is not
heavy-handed. Rather Marks, works with a light touch and a very sharp knife,
the sort that wounds grievously without the victim being able to detect the
attack until say, their entrails fall from the slit in their abdomen. As
much as I may want to put a stake through the heart of the vampire novel,
'Fangland' instead puts a stake through the heart of such ambitions. We can't
get rid of these damn vampires. They are just far too useful. They're not
thinning the herd, but they do offer a seemingly immortal and endless chain
of writers the chance to not just draw blood, but spill it. To fling it in
the faces of those who would regard the old world, the old media as dead.
Note. This is a NOVEL about TELEVISION. You're not going to be seeing a television
show about a novel anytime soon. So who is laughing now?
of Dragons Get a Modern Image Makeover
podcast is a clean, direct-from-my-editor mix of Dragons Get
a Modern Image Makeover. This was lots of fun to put together,
and I need to take
a moment to thank all those who contributed; Anne and Todd McCaffrey,
Naomi Novik, Christopher Paolini, and all their publishing support
staff who helped
me do this. And of course my editor! Thanks again all! Here's
a direct link to the MP3 file.
01-30-07: Adam Roberts 'Gradisil' ; A Review of Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men
Social Space Opera
Space opera is often
sought out by science fiction readers as The Great Escape. Yes, you
get some great hard science in space opera along with speculative leaps
of the imagination. Hopefully you get cool aliens. I admit, I'm a sucker
for space opera with neat monsters. Give me a monster and I'm a happy
guy. The adventure, the wide-epic scope of planet hopping humanity,
the view of our aspirations played out across a galaxy-wide backdrop,
it all adds to the appeal.
UK true-first edition. Worth your valuable money and time.
What we usually don’t see in space opera are hardcore, here-and-now
social issues. In fact, I'd dare to say that we read space opera
to avoid these issues, since we need only look to any one of ten
to get them spewed continuously in our faces. But UK writer Adam
Roberts has made a career out of doing the unobvious. His first novel, 'Salt',
from 2002 was a very peculiar inversion of that subset of space opera known
as the planetary romance. The planetary romance basically finds adventure
on one planet rather than across multiple worlds. 'Salt' took place on
one planet all right. It sent a group of religious conservative and a group
of anarchists to settle on the same planet, but oops! That planet proves
to be only barely hospitable. And when the humans arrive they don't have
much to do beyond fight, and the issues we see play out are playing out
right here and now, as warring factions within our own society struggle
for dominance. 'Salt' is space opera turned into social science fiction,
using the space opera element to boil down issues into fists versus fists.
Roberts is back at the social space opera with 'Gradisil' (Victor
Gollancz / Orion ; March 16, 2006 ; £10.99 ; Pyr / Prometheus Books ; March
2007 ; $15). 'Gradisil' posits a near future where new technology has made
escape into space a reality. This isn’t just space tourism.
It's colonization, and all that is implied. Escape from government.
from the concerns of the earth. A new life.
But not everyone
is willing to let go, to permit the escape of others while they remain
behind. And freedom proves to be state of mind
as much as a
state itself. Bottom lines anchor us all whether we'd like them to
or not. About the time the US government realiziues what it's missing,
to be willing to do pretty much anything to get that missing bit
back. 'Gradisil' provides Roberts with another near-future space
powered by a very political spin. 'Salt' took the war between religious
fundamentalists and atheist anarchists into space so the detritus
particular places and times could be stripped away and the conflict's
revealed. 'Gradisil' takes the war between the grasping greed of
the that nexus of
US government and Big Business, the military industrial complex that
Eisenhower warned us of, and well, everyone else isolates it in near-earth
Roberts is a powerful writer, who can get to the emotional core of
his characters to create the sort of burning righteousness that both
feel. Why shouldn’t those who built the whole shebang get a piece
of the pie? On the other hand, why shouldn’t colonists in a
new world run the show themselves, for themselves? Now matter how
there will be humans on one side, the other and some who find themselves
torn between both. We will murder and betray one another. No matter
where we are. No matter who we are. We just need the right circumstances.
is good. There are lots of ways to kill people in space,.
Vroom! US Space opera.
'Gradisil' is Roberts' first novel to be published in the US. Victor
Gollancz, the class-act British imprint brought us this writer years
ago. Now, we're
getting the chance to read Roberts' work from a US publisher, not
surprisingly, Pyr. Whatever version of this novel you lay your hands
on, be prepared
to escape – to reality.
Anarchy in the UK
Writers of the genre will tell you that science fiction is never about the
future. Children of Men goes this one better. Not only is it not about the
future, it's not even particularly concerned with it's own premise. A spectacular
combination of ineptitude and skill, Children of Men is nonetheless
a gripping movie. But only as a movie. Any attempt to contemplate the
the tale told not by one but by five idiots, will result in a headache
that might diminish your enjoyment of the spectacle on the screen.
try. Just sit there and watch as director Alfonso Cuarón blows
shit up so good that he manages to convey a coherent message in spite
of the nonsense
he's been saddled with.
UK poster, they got it.
Children of Men is based on a novel by P. D. James, who, when she writes
mysteries, is one of our top authors. But I have to admit that I was never
taken by the premise of the novel either, and thus did not read it. As the
movie begins, it's 2027. No child has been born for twenty years. Theo Faron
(Clive Owen) was apparently once some form of activist. He's contacted by
his ex-wife (Julliane Moore) to help her smuggle the first woman to become
pregnant in twenty years out of London to the safety of some nebulous enclave.
He starts at A, and walks, drives, even takes a boat through much gunfire
and many explosions to B. When the pregnant woman is revealed to others in
this supposed future, they're not happy or joyous or even particularly protective.
She becomes yet another diamond / super-weapon / incriminating set of papers
that has to be ferried very carefully. But not too carefully.
The script never reveals the reason for the simultaneous infertility
of mankind for twenty years. The decisions made by characters seem
calculated to take
them out of any realm of safety and into the kill zone again and again.
The world is essentially unchanged over the next twenty years, which,
examines reality, is not all that surprising. This is a future defined
solely by everything being messy and everyone having lots of flatscreen
coherent, well-written science fiction, Children of Men is
a spectacular failure.
But Children of Men is not, cannot really be about the things
it pretends to be about. Future, schmuture. Cuarón, his crew
and his actors have taken the inane surfaces offered by the script
vision not of
the future, but of the present that is by virtue of exemplary sound,
explosives, cinematography and editing, gripping and intense. The whole
Fugeddaboutit! Children of Men shows us what we can expect maybe
five years down the road should the entire Western world become as dangerous
Baghdad. Everyone is armed, nobody gives a shit, and everyone is spoiling
for a fight, hoping for a chance to use their caches of RPG's. It's the wild,
wild west with modern lightweight infantry looted from Wal Mart.
Don’t go to see Children of Men expecting anything like
the luxuriously created future we see in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner.
The two movies have
literally nothing in common. Cuarón has taken the horrifically
incoherent mash he's been given and skated on top of it to bring us
a vision of our
world at this moment. It's brilliantly executed cinema based on drivel,
but it is not science fiction. Instead, imagine Jarhead set in London. And hope,
pray that this vision remains firmly in the realm of your imagination.
A 2007 Interview With David Lynch
allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste.
David Lynch at KQED.
David Lynch once made a film titled Wild at Heart, but a more apt description
of the man himself is blissful at heart. But it's not exactly the happy-wappy
you might presume comes from years of TM. Once you get beyond inner bliss
and upper consciousness, well, there are stories to be told. Ideas to be
worked out. Re-worked and all of it done in the real world where film takes
can only last ten minutes unless you're using DV.
I talked to Lynch as he toured to support his new book, 'Catching the
Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity' (Tarcher / Penguin
28, 2006 ; $19.95) and his new movie Inland Empire. 'Catching
the Big Fish' is a
series of two to three-page nuggets of insight in Lynch's mind, his
his past and
current artistic process. Easy to read, good for Lynch fans and more
than a few useful pieces of advice for the creative artist.
deep, win big prizes.
I have to say that
getting the interview done was not easy. When he arrived at KQED, they
told me I could have fifteen minutes.
I take all these things with a grain of salt and figure that the conversation
will go as far as it will go. In this case, some forty minutes, and we
had quite a good time. Now, you will hear a goodly little lecture on the
virtues of TM to start things off, but we do get past that and talk about
his love of the Sony PD150, digital editing, his take on his own website,
and the story of the stick-figure version of Eraserhead.
If you're just coming here for the first time, you might want to peek
at the Review Archive,
where I've got over 600 (I think actually, may over 700 by now) book
reviews. Or you can view them by genre; Science
Fantasy, and Non-Fiction. And
you can browse the interviews with such luminaries as Clive Barker,
Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Ford, TC Boyle,
Rudy Rucker, Cory Doctorow here. Or you might want to take a look
at the Rolling Shelves where the latest of a very odd assortment of
books includes the new Chuck Palahniuk novel, 'Rant'.
Which is where you'll find a link to the MP3
of the David Lynch interview, or a
RealAudio version. You might want to subscribe
to the podcast, to
ensure that you don’t miss any upcoming interviews and I have
some great folks in the queue. Rather than speak any more of this
I think I'll leave you with this big ol' photo and what Lynch himself
calls: room to dream.