Sunday, September 1, 2013

London and Mexico After Midnight

The Dark by James Herbert (1980): Herbert gives us an apocalyptic struggle between Good and Evil, though this time expressed in pseudo-scientific rather than religious terms. A somewhat Satanic cult leader commits mass suicide with his followers in a London (England) suburb. A year later, what appears to be a sentient cloud of pure evil begins to sally forth from the site of the suicide, corrupting many of those it meets to act on their worst impulses. And it's pretty much up to three paranormal investigators and a medium to stop the rising tide, as conventional methods prove insufficient.

Herbert seems to have a good time destroying large portions of London, with a cloud-fueled soccer riot probably the best set-piece. Herbert's protagonists have an astonishing ability to survive physical punishment (the oldest and wisest paranormal investigator seems to get strangled every ten pages), which is good, because they must endure a lot of it.

This is an enjoyable horror novel in which evil operates more like a plague than the sort of thing one normally sees in horror novels. The protagonists are sympathetic if somewhat broadly drawn, and the stakes convincingly high. While this is horror, the depiction of the civil authorities pitching in to fight a supernatural menace also contains echoes of an awful lot of the British science-fiction-disaster tradition seen in the Quatermass series, Doctor Who, and the novels of John Wyndham. The sudden ending is quite loopy. Recommended.

 

Tomb Seven by Gene Snyder (1985): Labelled a horror novel by its publishers, Tomb Seven contains almost no horror. It's really a pseudo-scientific, ancient astronauts archaeology thriller about a dig in Mexico that unearths a seemingly impossible array of artifacts...and one weird 8-foot-tall skeleton. There's an awful lot of telepathic woo-woo stuff, much of it in need of less woo and more plausibility (cited for the millionth time in a piece of fiction about archaeology is the [in truth non-existent] Curse of King Tut's Tomb).

The protagonists -- a handsome Welsh archaeologist and a sexy Hispanic-American telepath -- have sex because that's how these things happen. And she is the most beautiful woman in the world, because that's also how these things happen. The telepath promises the reader that something terrible is coming. It never actually does. Sort of a wet firecracker. Not recommended.

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