books, Horror

Hungry like the Hydatid: A Review of Nick Cutter’s The Troop

I have found a novel that creeps me out almost as much as The Stand did decades ago when I was a teen. Nick Cutter’s The Troop is that book. Nick Cutter, in case you’re interested, is a pen name for writer Craig Davidson. 

For the most part, the characters are fleshed out enough. What’s intriguing about this novel is that Cutter intersperses news and magazine articles, blog posts, transcripts, other tidbits to help propel the reader along. Where this method fell short for me so far is in finding out how many of the characters survive their ordeal (spoiler alert: not many). 

The story centers around a small group of boys and their Scoutmaster on a camping trip in the Canadian wilderness. Throw in a diabolical scientist, a genetically engineered product of secret research, a vile nasty that causes its victims to become insatiably hungry before their hosts consume themselves, and the natural elements of the wilderness, and Cutter provides all the fixings for a horrorific tale.

If I have one fault with the characterization so far (better than three-quarters of the way through the novel), it is the way Cutter provides a seemingly cardboard cutout of a police chief and his bully son. Such characterizations have become a trope of sorts; one, sadly, we have seen again and again. Still, the rest of the boys and Tim the Scoutmaster round out a rather convincing cast.

Cutter acknowledges Stephen King and his novel Carrie as being “a great inspiration” in his writing. It becomes apparent while reading the novel where King’s influence has left its mark. 

The Troop is one of those novels perfect for a summer read; unless of course you plan on vacationing in the Canadian wilderness. If you do, beware hungry strangers. Whatever the case, if you like a good horror tale in the vein of The Stand then try The Troop; even if you are creeped out by the prospect of contagions. 

books, Novels, Philip K. Dick, Science Fiction, writers, writing

High Castle Baseball or, a Review of Sorts

I give Philip K. Dick credit for the alternate history/aftermath of WWII in his novel The Man in the High Castle. However, my biggest contention, and there are many with this particular novel, is why we meet Hawthorne Abendsen so late in the story. It was a letdown. 

Throughout the story the build-up indicates that the reader will eventually meet the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, the novel within the novel penned Abendsen and popular among the money characters within Dick’s tale. Ultimately, however, Abendsen turns out to be not as mythical or larger-than-life as I had anticipated.

Recently, I read a quote from a literary journal editor who said, and I’m paraphrasing here, the difference between “literary” fiction and other genres like science fiction is that there are no memorable characters which is a hallmark of so-called literary fiction (Holden Caulfield, Emma Bovary, Celie, and Humbert Humbert, to name just a few).

I am hard-pressed to recall one science fiction character who makes the grade where this theory is concerned. The monster in Frankenstein, perhaps? Surely, not Winston Smith; even though we feel sorry for him (or not if you’re some sort of sociopath). Marvin the Paranoid Android from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Not exactly human, is he? The same goes for The Man in the High Castle. We have this build-up throughout the novel; only to find out that Abendsen doesn’t actually live in the High Castle anymore.

True, Philip K. Dick was prolific. Like other prolific writers, not every novel is guaranteed to be a winner. It’s ironic that Dick began his career trying to get “literary” novels published. Don’t get me wrong. Philip K. Dick is one of my favorite writers. The Man in the High Castle, however, despite winning the Hugo Award in 1963 for best novel, was more of a triple rather than a homer. For my money, nothing beats A Scanner Darkly or the VALIS Trilogy. Ditto for Flow My Tears the Policeman Said.