The Artist

I watch it flap, bonelessly on the floor. One wing is at a strange angle, and its eyes are crusted shut. If it had a mouth, I think it would be screaming, but its beak is just a blank cone, unable to open.It can’t move on its own, let alone fly. It lies there, in pain, shivering occasionally. Another failed experiment.

On the floor around me are the other ones – slimy, scale-less fish; a dog that breathes heavily through a deformed muzzle; a moose with antlers made of the same jelly-like black flesh as its featureless eyes. Every one an abomination, every one a crippled reminder of my failure. Continue reading

Three Reasons to Read Steve Alten’s “Meg” series

I’ve read a lot of books, and watched a lot of films, about monsters. In so far as “monster attacks group of people” is a genre, it’s one of my preferred genres. I have thrilled to tales of liopleurodons, Humboldt squid, sabre-tooth tigers and titanoboas. I have watched, due to the prominence of sharks as the antagonist, countless films with a two word title in which the second word is “shark” (or, to be fair, “sharks”). The first word of the title allows more variation, including “snow“, “swamp“, “Jurassic“, and “raging“. I’ve even had the privilege of enjoying a whole bunch of works which just jammed two words together to create the title, like Sharknado, Sharktopus, and Piranhaconda

I mention these works to establish that I know what I’m talking about here, rather than as recommendations. I’m not recommending them because, in all this time of monster books and films, a common element has come clear: most of these works are absolutely terrible. Sturgeon’s Revelation states that 90% of everything is awful, but I believe monster stories to be a special case; I think the percentage for this specific genre might be closer to 98%.

For some reason, authors seem to feel that they can get away with more poorly-written books than in other genres. This might be attributable to the fact that a higher proportion of monster books seem to be self-published than in other genres, so there’s no one to enforce editing and proofreading. I don’t think that’s entirely it, as there are many traditionally published monster books that are terrible, and several well-designed self-published ones. In general, it just seems that monster books are where authors dump all their plot holes and inconsistent characterisation – it’s not a genre that is taken that seriously, or regarded very highly.

Now, this doesn’t particularly bother me. I like monster stories enough that despite (and occasionally because of) their terribleness, I still enjoy them. I will struggle through countless clumsy coincidences and grammatical errors to read about a deranged businessman being devoured by ptero-wasps. However, I’m aware that not everyone is as forgiving of, or as engaged in, the genre as I am.

MEG1I thought I’d use this post, after trashing the genre as a whole, to recommend an author who not only writes monsters books, but does so well. One of the few authors who manages to write a coherent plot in coherent English that’s also about a shark killing people.

Steve Alten’s “Meg” series is one of the stand-outs of the monster genre. The books are based around the idea that Carcharodon Megalodon, an ancestor of today’s great white shark, survived into the modern era; when one of these antediluvian murder machines comes into contact with humans, it’s up to a tortured marine biologist to stop the carnage. Continue reading

Paint

“You paint the wall. Three coats, no more no less.” He holds up three stubby fingers in front of me, to emphasise the point. “Always the same colour – ‘Business Blue’, number 20211 in the warehouse. Never any other colour. It’s special paint – never dries properly, so the kids can’t do their graffiti on it.”

I nod. It’s not hard to understand.

“Three coats on this wall, then you move the rig round to the next one, and do the same thing. No changes. No exceptions. Every building in the plaza, the same. It’s a, you know, corporate style.”

I nod again, seriously, showing him that I’m ready to do the job. Mostly, I want him to stop talking, to stop droning on nasally.

“I don’t want any funny stuff, right? No patterns or colours or deviations from the plan. Stick to the plan. We don’t need your fancy art school nonsense here. This is a serious place. Serious people.” Continue reading

Today and Every Day

Every day the same.

The same routine. His mother leaning over him as he wakes up in the racing car bed. The same two slices of toast, crusts cut off, and covered in strawberry jam. Today, and every day he still remembers, the jam pot is emptied, and he gets to sit there in his chair a little longer, scooping up the last traces from inside the jar and tasting the sweetness. His mother sits at the table opposite him, swirling the ice in her glass, and they talk about what he’ll do at school. She laughs at how decided he is. Continue reading

Bargaining

The boy stomped carefully through the dirty water. In places, it came nearly as high as the tops of his wellington boots. The torch in his hand shone a pale and steady beam, throwing a spot of light onto dank, curving walls and a low ceiling. His other arm was held close to his chest, shielding a small dark shape from the cold and damp. It did not move.

He was tired. Tired and cold and hungry. It felt as though it had been hours since he had climbed down the rusty ladder to the underworld. But he pressed on – he had no other choice. Continue reading

Bound – Alan Baxter (Review)

bound-cover-largeAlex Caine is a fighter with an edge – he can see what his opponents will do before they do it. He doesn’t question this much – it is the way things have always been, and it helps him to win.

It’s only when he angers a mob boss and meets a mysterious and rather pushy Englishman that Alex starts to explores his abilities more deeply. His limited pre-cognition is just one manifestation of his mostly-untapped magical potential. Continue reading

Pledge of Allegiance

It was surprisingly easy.

You would think it would be difficult to reverse more than two hundred years of history, to recover a lost possession of such magnitude. You might think it would take armies, a second war. All it took was cloth and careful planning. Continue reading