February 14th, 2013

Bar Harbor

Dream Snippet: Finder

Had a lengthy and complicated dream sorta-based on Finder last night. Most of it was lost on waking, but I remembered bits of the setting that seemed interesting enough to write down and share.

It was set in a city on the west coast. NOT one of the domed cities. This city was placed upon a large ceramic disk that was, in turn, atop a large tower. The tower was inhabited by (and probably built by) giant ants. Those who lived at the edge of the city were engaged in perpetual warfare with the ants. The city drew most of their power and heat from the ant-mound, but the ants would mindlessly attack the edges of the city.

The inner regions were largely unaffected by this warfare -- the tone of the overall story was light British comedy. No one now remembered whether the city was parasitizing a natural insect mound, or whether the ants had been genetically engineered to create the conditions for a city -- and control over their aggression had broken down. It was just part of life that if you were poor enough, you had to fight ants at the city's edge.
Bar Harbor

_Raising Stony Mayhall_, by Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory is an author I am watching with close attention. I lovedlovedloved his first novel, hated his second. _Raising Stony Mayhall_, his third, I had mixed feelings about on first read, and never got around to reviewing. Having come up in conversation recently, I gave it a re-read, and liked it much better this time around.

This book is set in a universe where George Romero's 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" was a documentary. The '68 outbreak was put down fairly successfully, but the world remains fearful of a second, worse outbreak. On the night of the '68 outbreak, a young woman is found dead by a roadside in Iowa, with a dead baby in her arms. Well, actually, an *undead* baby. The woman who discovers them decides to protect and shelter the babe. Eventually, mysteriously, he begins to grow up. This is his story.

So, it's a zombie story, and, at least at first, a YA coming-of-age novel. That changes radically when he discovers that he isn't the only 'surviving' undead from the first outbreak. To try to pin this book down to any small number of genres is to deeply misunderstand Gregory as an author. He's a man who *loves* genres, and both understands and abides by their rules. But he will switch genres on you without warning, once a chapter or more, to tell the story he wants to tell. He's very much a 21st century author, a child of remix culture. So before it's done, this novel passes through political thriller, science fiction pastiche, horror novel (of course), post-modern literary fiction, and more (that would be spoilers to detail).

I think that's why I had mixed feelings on my first read. I enjoyed each of the genres that this novel turns into, but I wanted more of each of them and missed them when they switched. But Gregory is a parsimonious writer. On a second read, I appreciated how much evry piece of the book was necessary, with no wasted scenes. Even some seemingly-minor tidbits of youthful characterization turned out to be important plot setup. In one bravura section, he takes plot incidents that other writers would spend a hundred pages on, and reduces it to a single-page bullet list summary, because that's all that's really needed for the story he wants to tell.

This is a book that will confound your expectations. If you're the kind of reader who can deal with that, it's highly recommended.