Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
Breeding Ground by Sarah Pinborough
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010The Conqueror Worms by Brian Keene
The Keeneathon continues with his 2006 book, The Conqueror Worms. Now, when people mention Brian, they usually ask if you’ve read The Rising. The Rising is considered to be his ‘hit’, but after fellow readers have enquired about The Rising, the next one, I’ve found, is The Conqueror Worms.
I thought that The Rising was okay. My preferred Keene book so far has been The Ghoul, which was reviewed earlier this month. Could Worms take the crown?
Teddy, and 80 year old man living alone in West Pennsylvania, is writing. Cold, wet and injured, he intends to record his story before his injuries take his life. What a story he has to tell. The rains started all over the world over a month ago. Tsunamis destroyed the coastlines, and most of the mainland has flooded, leaving bands of survivors stranded on mountain peaks or the tops of high rises. The rains aren’t just the only thing that has come: sea monsters have emerged from the depths, and from the earth come the giant worms.
The Conqueror Worms is a very intimate story, and we stick close to Teddy for the first and final acts. We have an elderly man, alone and afraid, trying to survive. It doesn’t get any simpler. And to have an old man as the hero, it adds to the characterisation in spades. He’s suffering from nicotine withdrawal and the usual aches and pains of old age. Plus, he has to deal with the probable loss of his children and grandchildren as well as watching the rains destroy his house and the keepsakes of his marriage. To be honest, the giant creatures and action were a bonus. Teddy’s plight had meat enough to keep this reader turning the pages.
Keene’s cast of supporting characters are well above average here. Carl, Teddy’s best friend, is likeable enough, and Earl next door is a crazy, shotgun toting, conspirator theorist. Good stuff.
Things change in the second act as we leave Teddy and co on the moment fending off the worms. Now we see how a band of survivors in a coastal city have fared. There are two rival groups: a bunch of peaceful people living in the top few floors of a hotel, and the group they’ve dubbed the Satanists. The Satanists are into chants and human sacrifice.
Welcome to the Lovecraft lite! This part of the story in particular is very, very Lovecraft (thing Dagon) and Keene succeeds in putting his own stamp on things. You can see that this is Lovecraft inspired, not Lovecraft ripped off. While this bit may be seen like padding, a digressing romp to get the story up to novel length, I loved it. It actually worked to get away from the worms before it got repetitive, deal with the sea monsters, and then get back to some finale wormage. For me it worked.
The only thing that annoyed me here is Keene’s insistence on putting gang members into every situation. The yo, yo, yo, dawg dialogue gets very annoying very quickly. Maybe this was why I enjoyed The Ghoul so much, it was set before hip hop.
The Conqueror Worms ends nice and satisfying, yet still has the legs for a sequel (no pun intended). A few strands of the story were not fully explained and their potential not leapt upon, very similar to Sarah Pinborough’s Breeding Ground which I reviewed this week. Two post-apocalyptic novels back to back? Yes, it’s all been doom and gloom! Funnily enough, since I started The Conqueror Worms two days ago, it’s done nothing but rain…
In answer to my earlier question, yes, I think that The Conqueror Worms is by far my favourite Brian Keene book thus far. I think I read the first 100 pages in one uninterrupted sitting. I hate to say this, as I’m against this kind of thing, but if this book was twice as long and more ‘literary’, it really could have made some waves in the mainstream. As it stands now, we have a fast paced cracker that’s as tight as…well…an asshole in a bucket of worms.Tickled your fancy? The link to buy is on the left.