Friday, April 07, 2006

More Matheson Thoughts

I found Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet and Other Stories at my excellent public library. The titular story is the basis for The Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner. Well if you like the show, read the book. Your heartbeat stays erratic the whole time. I love the detail in which Matheson describes the harrowing experience the protagonist has. He knows the gremlin is there but the darn thing disappears when he tries to point him out. The flight crew gets more and more convinced that the protagonist is off his rocker. But he knows he's sane. He is frightened out of his wits, but knowing that he's the only hope for the plane. The reluctant hero comes up with a plan to save the plane because the gremlin is steadily and I must add gleefully, tearing it apart. The climax is short, quick, wonderfully executed. You heave a sigh of relief when the story ends. This volume has other classic stories. Another truly affecting story is Slaughter House. Two very close brothers buy and lovingly restore a Victorian house which is possessed by a spirit with nefarious intent. The spirit slowly drives a wedge between brothers and ends up causing a tragic end for one of the brothers. As usual you can see Matheson's skill in writing. He takes his time to build things up to an exquistive level of terror. You feel the pain of the older brother as he fights to save his sibling. I felt it more intensely because I am very close to my sister and I can imagine how much anguish it was causing the protagonist to watch his brother turn into a stranger. For me the end was satisfying although tragic. I won't give it away. But suffice it to say you walk away with a poignant feeling that will stay with you for days. Another memorable tale is about a young boy who so intensely identifies with the tale of Dracula by Bram Stoker that his life goes in an interesting direction. This story leaves you with almost an upset stomach. As I read more and more horror, I realize how conventional I am. I think this is the power of horror, that it can drive home how settled we are into our normal, nice worlds blithely unaware of how ugly the other reality is. Matheson definitely seems to understand this. He uses the tools available to him to craft this into his stories. It could be circumstances that are horrible. It could be the protagonist that is the real horror, or it could be the fate of the protagonist. And even in the case of one story where a guy murders his wife and then is subsequently haunted by her ghost, you still feel shocked at the comeuppance his wife's spirit delivers to him. In some of the stories you find yourself thinking, that's not fair. And maybe that's the real kind of horror that we face everyday, that bad things happen to the normal, everyday person, the not especially good or bad, person. I think that Matheson really impresses me in his skill with the short story because writing a short story is such an art. I haven't read anything from him longer than a novella, but I will definitely look forward to reading a full length novel by him. However, I know I'll have to gird my loins because it will be a very bumpy, if satisfying ride.

Kim Harrison and Her Dead Witch Walking and Danielle's Ramblings Therein

I have to say that this book blew me away. I had reservations about reading it because I am a Christian and we are supposed to avoid witchcraft. I love horror and the supernatural. Always have. But I try to draw lines that I won't cross in my reading and tv watching. Happily this book did not compromise my beliefs. Rachel, the protagonist is a witch in the same way that a person could be a fairy or sprite. She's born a wtich. Instead of being a Wiccan, she simply has magical powers.
Now I am not trying to condemn those who chose to follow the Wiccan religion. That's that person's decision. However I don't necessarily want to read about it. I prefer the direction that Happy Potter and Dead Witch Walking takes that some people are born with the power to make magic.
Anyway, I have been on a paranormal detective kick that I have always sort of had (grew up watching The Night Stalker). And in vet school, a fellow student leant me her Anita Blake books. I was hooked. Just the combination of the supernatural, mystery and problem that needs solving is such a ripe and intriguing concept. A couple of months ago I read Something From The Nightside by Simon R. Green, a paranormal detective story. It was awesome. I knew I was going to try to read as many as possible at this point. I went on Amazon to find more books like that and also have been referred by other fans of the genre. Kim Harrison's series comes up as a recommendation in that genre. And I start thinking, maybe I will read those. Just because I read about a witch doesn't mean I'm going to hang up my cross and go pagan. After all I cut my teeth on Greek myths and I haven't built a temple to Artemis yet.
To be honest I backed off of my supernatural reading partly due to time, partly due to trying to control what stimuli my brain gets (what fertile soil it is). But always I have loved stories that ponder the question about what goes bump in the life. And those of us who are Christians, we know that there is a spiritual, otherworldly component to our existence. I think horror does in some way help us to have faith. Evil can be destroyed by good. That is the underlying theme of good horror to me. Well Jesus did exactly that when he died for our sins. I try not to spend too much time talking my faith on my blog, but if it comes into play when I discuss movies, books, or music I will. After all it's part of me.
Well I finally decided I wanted to read more horror and supernatural. And partially Sherrilyn Kenyons Dark Hunter series is a factor in that. It helped me to realize how much I loved the paranormal. After reading those I was apt to find any paranormal book I could and read it. Thankfully my sister has a whole cache of paranormal. I read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, about a female werewolf trying to live as a human, and loved it. It further fueled my desire for the paranormal. If Angels Burn by Lynn Viehl was summarily devoured this summer. My Amazon wish list grew by leaps and bound in the paranormal.
I should say I have never stopped reading ghost and vampire stories. I usually collect short story volumes with the like. But now I try to buy paranormal romances as well. So all this verbiage basically serves to show the progression down the path of discovering Dead Witch Walking. I joined some horror and paranormal book groups on yahoo and eagerly took all recommendations. Some had read and enjoyed Dead Witch Walking and they loved other books that I liked. So I thought maybe. Then on my group for Vampyre reads they selected it as the read of the month. I thought okay I'm going to give it a try.
Well I'm glad I decided to read this book From the moment I started reading it I was hooked. What a world Kim Harrison built. She created a world inside the world of Cleveland, Ohio, the Inderland, otherwise known as The Hollows. It's a place where werewolf, vampire, fairy, pixy, witch all live and function more or less as humans. Some humans avoid them like the plague. Other's interact as needed. Rachel Morgan straddles this world. She is a witch by birth. But she looks and acts human. She is a good hearted soul who wouldn't hurt a fly. An earth witch, she uses the gentle power of the earth through plants. Harrison goes on to explain that there are other kinds of witches that use more powerful, and often more dark forces. There are witches that sacrifice animals to harness their power, and there are witches that tap into the ley lines (natural lines of power that run through the earth). She explains that the ley lines cause the witch to lose grasp of their limits and make the witches vulnerable to demonic forces. I thought it was interesting. And not too much to freak out my Christian sensibilities. Rachel prays to God and not the earth (which made me feel a little better). Now I'm not saying that this is biblical in the strictest sense, but it's fiction and it's escapism. So it works for me. Rachel is such a interesting character. She's human and has her shortcomings, but is intensely likable. And as the book starts she's an underdog (which makes it easy for her to identify with--I always ID with underdogs). Her job sucks and she always ends up with the crap missions. She's a runner for a law enforcement agency that polices the Inderlanders (non-human/mystical beings). As the story begins she's trying to take in a leprechaun for tax evasion. Her tools are her wits, fighting skills, her charms that she buys (since making them is expensive and time consuming), and her handcuffs. She has charms that run the gamut of making the victim go to sleep or disguising the user. This makes for hilarious moments. There are also awesome scenes of butt-kicking and tense moments that make my heart glad. A demon nearly takes her life, and I didn't breathe the whole time. When Rachel quits her job her boss puts a bounty on her head so that witches, fairies, werewolves are all gunning for her. And Rachel spends part of the book as a mink who is captured and kept in a ferret cage. She is taken to fight rats and ends up meeting a possible love interest who is a human who was turned into a rat. Did I mention that her roommate and new partner when she goes solo is an undead Vampire who Rachel spends most of book afraid of being bitten by? Her other partner is a 4 inch tall pixy with more than a dozen children who has the spunk of a giant. The world that Harrison creates is so rich and interesting I can't wait to read the other books.
So I guess I wrote all this to say, that sometimes you can find something that you really like in a place you never thought of looking.