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Ecology of Fear

Mike Davis

Metropolitan Books

US Trade Hardcover

ISBN 0-8050-5106-6

484 pages; $27.50

Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2001



Non Fiction


Non-fiction for horror readers is not especially common. In 'Ecology of Fear', Mike Davis examines the landscape of Southern California as a setting for disasters both real and imagined. He's an excellent writer, and will keep the reader entranced with his tales of urban floods and his examination of artistic works wherein Los Angeles is destroyed. The horror writer seeking both "grist for the mill" and facts about the terrors of urban living will find a lot of useful material contained here in a very readable format. In either case, 'Ecology of Fear' is an excellent break from the usual mayhem, murders, and death we find in horror novels, even as it describes all three in gory detail.

Davis starts out with an examination of the myths of Southern California's safety. He describes the urban tornados, the floods that have turned Hollywood into an inland sea, and the constant rebuilding of the rich over landscapes that should have no inhabitants. He includes a generous number of excellent black and white photos in the text that liven up the material considerably. Charred rabbits and federal agents killing mice with sticks are amongst the subjects. His histories of fires, floods and tornadoes are frightening and gripping. They're also informative for the horror writer, as they can give insight into the effect of natural disasters on highly urbanized areas. There are a number of anecdotes which cry for expansion into short stories or novels.

Once he's done with the actual mayhem, Davis moves on to the virtual mayhem, that is, "The Literary Destruction of Los Angeles". From rancid, racist survivalist novels to 'Blade Runner', Davis gives an incisive look at what creators have put Los Angeles through and what is implied by the fiction we've seen thus far. He returns to many of the themes in his earlier work 'City of Quartz', which was the first salvo he fired at his native city, that is that Los Angeles is designed to corral the poor and support the rich. There's nothing tremendously new here, but it's certainly well written and clearly explained. Davis does not just recite dry facts, but leads the reader through entertaining travelogues in fear, crime and disaster.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of assertions that Davis' facts are less than factual. This diminishes the factual impact of his work, but it will not affect the horror reader/writer's perceptions. In the end, fact-checking is less important than the overall aura of fear and loathing that he successfully creates. For a look at the core reasons of urban terror, you cannot find a better source than 'Ecology of Fear'.