bookmonster

The Book Monster #17 (Relaunch)

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October 30, 2013 

After a 10 month hiatus, I am relaunching my column “The Book Monster.” 

For those who have never visited my column before I would like to welcome you and invite you to keep coming back. I also invite you to read some of my old columns. The Book Monster discusses books, publishing news, authors, literature in pop culture, and anything else that has to do with books. Feel free to comment with Facebook. I would also love to hear from my readers whether you have questions, comments, etc. You can contact me by e-mail (the box with the “e” inside, below my bio) or via Twitter (the box with the “T” inside).

To my readers both faithful and intermittent I apologize for the abrupt death of the column in December; my career took me elsewhere.

Goth, vamps, and Edgar Allan Poe teamed up to save the world from emo kids last week on South Park.
Goth, vamps, and Edgar Allan Poe teamed up to save the world from emo kids last week on South Park.

This being the eve of Halloween I feel inclined to touch upon Edgar Allan Poe, father of the horror genre, who appeared last week “South Park” as the original goth. During the episode titled “Goth Kids 3,” Poe accused the goth kids of South Park Elementary of being poseurs. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone never fail in their ability to polk fun at anything and everyone, and their portrayal of Poe was hilarious. 

Poe’s masterpiece “The Raven” may be his best poem, and Christopher Walken’s reading of the poem is excellent. Enjoy:

CoralineThis past weekend I read Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline.” I heard the Tim Burton adaptation of the book was terrible and I have never seen it. The New York Times Book Review dubbed “Coraline,” “One of the most frightening books ever written.” With a review like that I couldn’t resist reading it. “Coraline” follows in the tradition of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” in that Coraline finds a door in her home that leads to another world, only this is a world where everything is a sinister replica of the real world. Quality of plot and quality of writing made it easy for me to overlook the fact that the book is written at an elementary reading level. I wish I could’ve read “Coraline” when I was a Goosebumps obsessed third grader, but I still loved the book as an adult. This book wasn’t the most frightening I’ve read, but as far as children’s literature goes this book takes the cake.

Technology has changed the face of the publishing industry and online literary journals are popping all over the internet and the best thing about them is they are free. Wig Leaf publishes fiction under 1,000 words a handful of times every month, although I have not figured out their publishing frequency. I cannot vouch for all the fiction that is published on the site, but I have come across a few great stories at Wig Leaf. Finding a short story worth reading only takes a little bit of searching on this site.

 

 

 

Book Review – Verland: The Transformation by B.E. Scully

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The cover artwork for Verland: The Transformation by B.E. Scully.
The cover artwork for Verland: The Transformation by B.E. Scully.

Verland: The Transformation, the debut novel by Eugene author B.E. Scully, is a welcome return to a time when vampire stories were actually about vampires.  And when I say vampires, I don’t mean brooding sex symbols who might enjoy a snifter of Type O every now and then when they aren’t busy romancing vapid teenage girls, but the vampires of old: superhuman, disquieting predators with an overpowering thirst for human blood.

The nominal protagonist of Scully’s story is Elle Bramasol, a true crime writer who ekes out a living on the mid-lists when she isn’t busy having conversations with her mother’s grave or hanging out with her two cats or policeman boyfriend.  That all changes one day when she gets a call informing her that famed Hollywood producer turned murderer Eliot Kingman has made a personal request for her to write a book about the events that led to his glitzy, high-profile trial and subsequent conviction.

However, Bramasol soon learns that Kingman’s case is the furthest thing from his mind.  During their first interview, he rambles on about the nature of life and grief, then tells her that he has found a loophole to mortality, a way around death itself.  When she inquires further, he directs her to visit his mansion, where his wife and his assistant give her a sheaf of translated pages from a book purporting to be a diary that begins during the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s.

It’s at this point that the novel really comes into its own as the diary introduces us to Verland, a young Prussian soldier who is turned into a vampire by a mysterious medic after being left to die on the battlefield.  As Scully unfolds the vampire’s story through multiple series of diary entries, Verland soon supplants Bramasol as the de facto protagonist of the story; he is a fully-realized, complexly layered character, and his diary is the most interesting part of the entire novel by far.  In fact, the entries are so compelling that they begin to overshadow the rest of the book, and it won’t take long before readers will find themselves skimming through Bramasol’s investigations so they can get back to reading about Verland’s life story.

Portrait of B.E. Scully from her author page on Amazon.com.
Portrait of B.E. Scully from her author page on Amazon.com.

The passages dealing with Verland’s diary succeed as well as they do by never making the mistake of lingering for too long on any one subject.  By turns Verland is a wretch overridden with existential anguish, a terrifying predator who revels in his powers, a passive observer to important historical events and personages, a detached clinician who performs unsettling J.G. Ballard-style experiments on his own flesh, and an outsider who knows he must remain apart from humanity but can’t quite still his yearnings for the simple pleasure of social contact.  And no matter how far Scully pushes her titular antihero, his thoughts and actions always feel true to the character she has created.

One of the more fascinating themes running throughout the book is the constant juxtaposition of the vampire’s overriding monstrosity – i.e., the need to feed via murder, up close and personal – with the evils of human society in all their depersonalizing, depraved cruelty.  In a way, Verland’s simple animal urge to seek out prey paints him with a purity of purpose that somehow elevates his bloodlust above the far murkier motivations behind the predations of normal humans.

Verland’s passage through history also works to take the vampire mythos created in seminal horror novels like John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) and carry it intact up to the present day, free of the glitterpires and other misty-eyed romantic trappings that make contemporary vampire fiction so unbearable to read.  The novel’s historical and literary references sometimes devolve into little more than rote name-dropping, and at times the scope of the story outstrips Scully’s ability to fully realize it, but that’s a small complaint.  It’s hard to fault an author for daring to reach for something just beyond their grasp instead of playing it safe and composing a lesser story.

So, while Verland: The Transformation doesn’t avoid the usual smattering of problems that seem to plague all debut novels, B.E. Scully nevertheless succeeds in writing an engaging, satisfying tale.  It may not be high literature, but it doesn’t need to be – it’s a straight-up vampire novel, and a damned good one at that.