Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Unprofessional Book Review: The Strain Trilogy Books I-II by Guillermo del Toro

If you are a movie geek like me, then you like Guillermo Del Toro. I like his monsters, I like his style, and I just generally like the way he approaches storytelling. Out of curiosity, I started reading The Strain, which is the first book of a vampire trilogy co-written with Chuck Hogan (he wrote the novel that the new Ben Affleck film The Town is based on). Don't roll your eyes at the mention of vampires. As Del Toro said recently in an interview with Stephen Colbert, these are not the sorts of vampires that you would want to take on a date. And boy am I thankful for that! The second book in the trilogy, The Fall (which I just finished reading) was released last Tuesday.

The trilogy starts out with a plane at rest on the tarmac at JFK Airport. The plane full of 'dead' passengers who have been infected with a mysterious virus which kills all but a handful. Unbeknownst to the rest of the world, there was a mysterious and ancient passenger on board the plane in the cargo hold, and his arrival in New York is signaling the fruition of a long gestated plan. I won't ruin things by explaining the intricacies of the story. At this point, suffice it to say, the 'dead' passengers don't stay dead once nightfall arrives.

Slowly, (and I do mean SLOWLY) the authorities come to realized that a plague has been unleashed upon the city of New York, and that nobody is immune to its horror. As implied at the beginning, these are not shiny, cute, boy-band looking vampires (a la Twilight), but the really scary kind that eat anything and everything they can get their hands on, and thereby propagating their species further.

Del Toro has intentionally taken an anti-supernaturalistic approach to the creatures, which is fine by me, since from a worldview perspective, they aren't real in the first place. He explains their functions in purely physical terms and describes in tremendous detail how their bodies work. What I did notice (especially in the first book) in terms of 'worldview' agenda was that Del Toro is explicit that religious images (crosses, holy water, etc.) are just 'superstitious' and won't harm the vampires. At one point, a catholic woman throws holy water on a vampire to none effect; realizing she is in big trouble, she quips, "When the power of Jesus fails you, you know you are ---- out of luck."

At another point in the book, the main character in the book, Ephraim, is looking for his friend. As he moves through the train she was on, he sees a room full of recently feasted on bodies. Instead of looking for her face, he doesn't bother. "Nora was smarter than that," and he proceeds forward without looking for her among the dead. I just stopped reading and went, 'Smart enough for what? To know not to die? There may be a flaw in your logic; you'd better look at those faces after all.'

As you can see, this is not the best writing you've ever seen. Moby Dick this is not. But then again, this is pop fiction and meant to be ingested quickly and with little effort. I finished book one in a single weekend, and I took a little longer with book two, even though it was shorter. Overall, these books are entertaining, and a nice respite from the cheesy, schmaltzy vampire junk that's constantly in theaters and on television right now.

I can't put my finger on it, but these books reminded me a great deal of the Left Behind series. Partially, because the writing is literally no better than Lehaye/Jenkins wrote, and partially because a similar grim eschatological pallor hangs over the books as the world descends deeper and deeper into the vampire infestation, and the sole survivors carrying the secret that can save everyone struggle on closer and closer to some sort of resolution. Think of it as Left Behind for pagans.

Truthfully, I don't like to read pop fiction like this very often. But the way I function is by breaking up my reading every now and then, and occasionally feeding my imagination with crazy stuff like this. I find that it keeps my mind 'elastic' if I can use a weird phrase like that, and helps me to be flexible and creative in my thinking. If you're in the mood for a mind-stretch and some freaky vampire hunting, I must say this is the book for you - as long as the thought of blood doesn't make you want to puke.

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