Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Maberry’

Doc SavageSo I’m reading this book called Wanted Undead or Alive: Vampire Hunters and Other Kick-Ass Enemies of Evil by Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman. I intend to do a more lengthy review of it presently, so stay tuned. But I just wanted to mention one thing.

The book has a chapter on the pulp magazines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which mentions “Doc Savage.” The Doc Savage adventures were really popular back in the heyday of pulp. They featured the titular square-jawed hero who traveled the world with a cadre of brainy tough guys, putting a stop to various evil-doers.

The author, “Kenneth Robeson,” was actually a rotating stable of writers. I read a few when I was a kid. They weren’t great in retrospect, in the manner of other pulp material from writers such as H.P. Lovecraft or Ray Bradbury. But they were a fun read. And to be fair, that’s no more and no less than what they aspired to.

But the books did have a lasting impact on me as a reader, in the form of one important lesson.

See, when I was about 13, I was reading one called The Sargasso Ogre. It features a scene where Doc Savage is interrogating a couple of criminals.

At one point, one of them defiantly answers Doc Savage’s questions with “Phooey on you!”
As a kid, I thought that was hilarious. This is a dangerous criminal. A very bad man, the story makes clear. And he says “phooey on you?”

When I thought about it at greater length, though, I realized what was really going on. The words “phooey on you” might as well have an asterisk indicating a footnote from the author. And that footnote would read as follows:

“Look. Both you and I know that the guy didn’t really say ‘phooey on you.’ What he said was ‘fuck you.’ But I’m writing this in 1933, and there’s no way in hell I’d get away with writing that. So I’m going to ask you, the reader, to use a little effort and fill in what he actually said in your mind, OK?”

That moment of realization comes back to me whenever I’m reading a book from a bygone era, and the writer has to obliquely hint at what’s going on.

I’m not one of these people who subscribes to the idea that graphically presenting something is akin to bad writing. I find that attitude naïve and a bit childish. Good writing is good writing, whether a faithful film adaptation would merit a rating of G or NC-17. And if the material calls for a lot of F-bombs, by all means get ‘em in there.

Still, there’s something impressive about reading – or watching, in the form of screenplays – writers from the past managing to convey through subtle suggestion what they can’t state overtly.

Case in point. I’m in the process of reading Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, published in 1898, for the first time. (SPOILER ALERT!) And the scene where Mrs. Grose reveals Quint’s nature as a sexual predator and pedophile is all the more disturbing for her unwillingness – and James’ inability, given the time he was writing – to state it overtly.

It’s all a bit more subtle than “phooey on you” in lieu of … you know. Still, I thank whichever incarnation of Kenneth Robeson penned “The Sargasso Ogre” for giving me that early lesson in reading between the lines.

Just goes to show that you can glean insights into literary interpretation from just about any source. Don’t agree with me? Go phooey yourself.

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I recently read a DVD review on “The Onion AV Club” that contained the line: “Popular culture passed the zombie saturation point long ago.”

The Onion A.V. Club is among my favorite sources for DVD reviews, but I’m not ready to concede the writer’s point. I mean, yeah, no arguing with the fact that there’s A LOT of zombie-related entertainment out there these days.

But is that a bad thing? That’s kind of like complaining that there were just too many hard-boiled detectives in the 1940s. Too many Westerns in the 1950s, or martial arts films in the 1970s. All of which is tantamount to complaining that there are entirely too many beers in the fridge.

To sum up the point that I’m currently beating into the ground – why complain about an embarrassment of riches? As long as the zombie stories are entertaining and of good quality, keep ‘em coming.

If you want to read a novel that justifies the continuing persistence of the zombie sub-genre, pick up “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry – a very effective melding of the action thriller and horror story.

Yeah, the whole “plague of zombies” milieu has contained action thriller elements from the beginning. They kick in anytime a bedraggled band of survivors hoists shotguns and starts administering lead-assisted decapitations.

But we’re talking serious military thriller material here. In the form of Joe Ledger – tough cop with some dark secrets in his past, a knack for martial arts (he’s capable of taking out zombies by HAND for cryin’ out loud) and enough of a regular-guy vulnerable streak that he’s fun to root for.

NOTE: I should mention that “Patient Zero” came out in 2009. According to Wikipedia (I am nothing if not painstaking in my research efforts), there are four in the Joe Ledger series already out and two more on the way. But I just read “Patient Zero” for the first time. And as I tell people, this blog is devoted to the highly precise subject of whatever the hell I happen to be interested in at the moment. What can I say? The concepts “self-indulgent” and “blog” have never been what you’d call mutually exclusive.

After helping to take down a bunch of terrorists, one of whom proves curiously unwilling to die, Joe finds himself recruited by a mysterious intelligence operation tasked with protecting the world from an encroaching bioterrorism threat. (Spoiler: The encroaching bioterrorism threat is a zombie plague. But come on. That wasn’t REALLY a spoiler, was it?)

Yes, it delivers plenty of what you want and expect from zombie-related entertainment, in the form of hunkered-down defenders holding off wave after shambling wave of carnivorous corpses.

It also offers something sorely lacking in most other zombie fiction – the metaphorical chess game with a ruthless opponent. Scary as zombies can be, let’s face it. They don’t make for the most cerebral of adversaries.

In “Patient Zero,” a crew of devious and cold-blooded international terrorists is deploying the zombie plague for tactical reasons, with the assistance of some entertainingly slimy corporate types who have a sinister agenda of their own.

So it’s got a little bit of everything. International intrigue. A diverse crew of elite special operatives and scientists working against the clock to stave off a threat to humanity. A saboteur hidden somewhere in the ranks who must be discovered and stopped before it’s too late. And, of course, lots of zombies getting their heads blown off.

Will Jonathan Maberry’s “Patient Zero” redefine your concept of narrative storytelling? Doubtful. Will it keep you turning pages at a furious pace? Absolutely.

My friend Carlette found my previous blog entry about the book “The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead” intriguing, so she decided to make it the subject of one of her blog talk radio broadcasts. And she graciously (foolishly?) asked me to sit in. Give it a listen if you want:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/letteschat/2012/08/23/from-lore-to-ludicrous–all-about-vampires

Did you know that Count Dracula walked around during the day? He wasn’t at the height of his powers. But that whole “daylight-kills-vampires-on-contact” thing was never in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel, “Dracula.” For that matter, it was never part of the Eastern European vampire folklore that inspired Stoker’s story, either.

So where does that particular element of vampire mythology come from? According to the book “The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead” by Shane MacDougall, it actually comes from Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau’s 1922 silent film “Nosferatu.” (Which was a classic in its own right, but totally ripped off Stoker’s novel. Stoker’s widow sued.)

Murnau needed a way to kill off Count Orlock, the Dracula surrogate. He basically pulled the “sunlight kills him” plot device out of his ass. And now it’s as intrinsic to vampire lore as crucifixes and stakes.

I recently got a copy of MacDougall’s book. By the way, that name’s a pseudonym for horror author Jonathan Maberry. If you’re a horror fan, do yourself a favor and pick up his Pine Deep trilogy. It’s awesome.

I’ve got a feeling I’ll end up devoting more than one blog entry to this book. Hell, it could be the subject of a blog in and of itself. (more…)