Thursday, January 14, 2010

Things That I Read

This week (or rather last week): The Gates - by John Connolly

Rated: E for End of the world-hilarity

This review is going to be a quick one since I actually finished it over a week ago and the specifics have started to crawl away from my brain like [insert witty simile here]. Yep, I'm that lazy. Anyway, this book tells the story of Samuel Johnson, a little boy living in a tidy English village, who becomes unfortunately involved with demons and all the end of the world type things that they do. It turns out that his unassuming neighbors accidentally assisted in the opening of a portal to Hell, or rather, a particularly hell-like dimension which bears a strong resemblance to the Hell depicted in Christian mythology. The whole "gateway to Hell" business has been done before, but what I found interesting about this work was how Connolly attempted to explain the phenomenon by connecting the the "magical" creation of the portal to a malfunction of the Large Hadron Collider, and the formation of a sort of black hole/Einstein-Rosen bridge hybrid thingy. At this point you can tell that this girl has never actually taken a physics class in her life. Moving on. The book actually spends a remarkable amount of time on real hard science, which is not really expected in a fantasy novel. Should we then reclassify this thing as science fiction instead? Eh, I mean there are still dragon-like beasties and undead hordes and such, not to mention the semi-magical elements, so I'm going to say no. Still, its pretty different stuff, and I wouldn't mind seeing more science things that I don't understand in fantasy books so I can sound smarter. Science aside, what you have is a pretty straightforward lets-stop-the-end-of-the-world tale written with a lot of tongue in cheek humor and extremely snarky footnotes. If you were looking for a book to compare it too, the easiest would be Good Omens by Terry Pratchet and Neil Gaiman; if you were looking for a movie, then definitely Shaun of the Dead. Except, ya know, with kids. Comparisons to Shaun are particularly apt in the bit where Samuel and his friends fend off these flying demon things with a cricket bat, and of course the part with the actual zombies. I also felt some notes of Hot Fuzz when the semi inept police force is trying to combat the hellspawn. Great stuff that. I particularly liked the character of Nurd, a demon who isn't very good at being terrifying and only sort of good at being good, who gets mixed up in the whole business. I recommend this book to just about everyone. Hard scifi fans are going to like the bits of semi-factual science, fantasy and horror buffs are going to enjoy the magical/ demon stuff, and anybody who likes the absurd will enjoy the ripping good writing. The only other Connolly book I read was "The Book of Lost Things." This book is very different from that, but shows the same talent for storytelling. I wonder whether his hard-boiled crime fiction is as well written. Maybe I'll check it out some day.

Final Word: Definitely the best book I've read this year. Ok, so it's the first book I read this year. Sue me.

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