Monday, May 11, 2015

Don't Go in the Water

Beneath Still Waters by Matthew J. Costello (1989): Fast-paced, entertaining horror novel from the 1980's with flawed but sympathetic characters and some spooky underwater action. This was apparently made into a cheapie horror movie in the mid-2000's, so avoid that. On the other hand, the edition I read was a tie-in to that movie, so the reprint did result in me reading it. 

Costello writes in multiple genres (including TV and video games). This horror novel is very much in the Stephen King tradition in terms of setting (a small North-eastern town, here in New York state rather than Maine) and set-up (ancient evil invades small town; problem must be dealt with decades after the fact). The protagonists are both reporters, which gives them reason to investigate why a small town was hurriedly drowned by a hastily built dam back in the 1930's. 

I'm assuming there were edits made to get it to a required length, as the conclusion is a bit rushed. I'd have enjoyed more of the historical 'archival' research into the origins of the horror -- it's the sort of thing Lovecraft did perfectly in many of his stories, and which Stephen King made his own in novels such as It. Recommended.

The Boats of the Glen Carrig by William Hope Hodgson (1907): William Hope Hodgson's life was cut short in his mid-40's in the trenches of World War One. Nonetheless, he left quite a literary legacy, one that wouldn't really begin to take effect until the 1930's and 1940's, when lovers of the weird started to unearth and publish his out-of-print novels and short stories.

Hodgson spent years as a sailor, and many of his best works feature a maritime setting. His novels also tended toward the archivally inclined: here, the story is 'written' in 1757 by a former passenger of the British sailing ship Glen Carrig, with the recounted adventures occurring some time earlier  in the 18th century. We start with the action already underway, the Glen Carrig sunk and the survivors in two lifeboats. They're somewhere in the South Atlantic, and things are going to get weird.

Hodgson's model seems to be the works of writers such as Daniel DeFoe, whose Robinson Crusoe stands a sort of Ur-text for all tales of sailors and shipwrecks and strange islands. But Crusoe, while alone, faced nothing so weird as these sailors will face. Their odyssey takes them to a strange island or perhaps continent, unmarked on their maps, where extraordinarily odd plant life exists and menace seems to wait over every hill. They'll soon face storms and another strange continent. They're about to get trapped by a vast assemblage of sea weed. And in and beneath the seaweed, more strange men and monsters. 

The final third of the novel drags a bit as the sailors get stuck in the seaweed and plan to get out while being besieged by weird creatures of the sea and land, pretty much all of them with a whole lot of tentacles waving around. Still, this is a rewarding journey. Hodgson's description of the sailing life rings with authenticity. 

Characters other than the narrator are sketchily constructed; our interest in them instead comes from the horrors they face and their general bravery and resourcefulness in finding ways to escape from the problems they're presented with. The scenes set in the first place they land showcase Hodgson's skill at the creations of disturbing, uncanny landscapes while the later adventures in the land of seaweed focus more upon a sort of literature of grace under weird pressure, much of it expressed by detailed descriptions of the various plans the sailors enact to get home. Highly recommended.

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