Horns, by Joe Hill

Horns Book Cover Horns
Joe Hill
Horror, supernatural, paranormal
Feb 2010

On GoodReads, this novel is shelved as "Horror", "Supernatural", "Paranormal", "Thriller", and whatnot.  It is all of those things, but I feel like it doesn't provide a full picture. I often feel like that after reading this kind of thing.  There are readers who'll look at genre labels and automatically translate it to mean not real good.   And then they'll miss out on books like Horns.

Just as with most of the genres i read, of course - but I get a stronger sense of it with supernatural/horror than with, for instance, hard science fiction, because your average-reader is much more likely to pick up a paranormal thriller on the "popular choices"-shelf than suddenly finding and choosing KSR's Red Mars.  Right.  Well. Rant.  I don't know why I even type this; I don't consider book snobbery a problem, just sometimes bafflingly misguided.

So, uh. This is a story about a dude who grows horns.

That's it. That's what we have here.  Ignacious Parrish wakes up one day with a terrible hangover; the kind where you feel like your skull is splitting. And it is.   He has no idea what's going on, and asking for advice or help is problematic, as everyone is suddenly very bent on telling him their terrible true thoughts about him, what they think he did to his dead girlfriend, and everything else they have terrible secret thoughts about.

They can see the horns, too, so he has to let go of the plausible explanation, which would be some sudden mental illness unfolding between his eyes and the mirror.

He didn't kill his girlfriend - but he needs to know who did.   Is that what the horns are for? What happened last night? What he remembers is crude and un-churchly, but not quite enough to warrant demonic transformation or godly punishment... is it?  Ig was never that kind of man - actually, it was in church he first met his girlfriend.   He has lived very comfortably as the child of rich, somewhat famous parents, but spends his own time on volunteer work for charity and children's summer camps.   He's supposed to be the good guy - not the guy constantly rubbing his goatee.

Joe Hill brings humor and stylish prose to the story, painting everything vividly in words, so much that I kept wondering why this became a novel when we know he knows his way around writing graphic novels, too. (Locke & Key, the last volume of which I still haven't read, and it bothers me a lot.)   That's not a complaint - just an attempt at saying something about what the author's strenghts are.  In my post-read contentment, I'm crossing my fingers he  has a long, very long future bibliography, and that it branches out from its supernatural roots, high and low into other genres.

My real children, by Jo Walton

My real children Book Cover My real children
Jo Walton
Science fiction, alternate history, historical fiction
Tor Books
May 20th 2014

Jo Walton is good at making me excited about things, which I learned from the first book of hers I read;  Among others.  It's a lovely quality in a fiction writer, especially combined with vast amounts of detail and trivia about the subject.  In My real children,  it's the second world war, and Florence, and the renaissance, and social justice.

It doesn't read like science fiction, no more than any of, for example, Connie Willis' time travel novels. That genre tag is more of a background prop than a protagonist, here.  This might put off some genre readers, because, well, where did the genre go?  But it was the same in Among others, so if you read that - and I got the impression everyone read that - you'll have a good idea of what you're in for.

An old woman struggles with her disappearing memory. It's all that much harder to remember anything now, because -  the things she does remember don't fit together.  Did she marry Mark, or spend her life with Bee? Were there three or four children?  Is there a research station on the moon, or does it hold nuclear weapons?  Did the Kiev bomb and all the thyroid cancer really happen?  And what name did her friends and family call her by? Surely it wasn't the one the nurses use now.

We get to follow this woman from childhood, through a Sliding doors kind of setup;  Did she say yes or no, and how did that affect everything?  And if she could choose, at the end, holding both of the possible worlds in her head - would she choose for her own happiness? Should she?

Walton's prose is lovely, with an easy flow, though it carries heavy content.  Few authors could have described these families in a way I wouldn't feel awkward and alienated by. (That might be just me - I'm just genuinely impressed I could read through that many conceptions and births without it ever turning into a common motherhoodmiracleextravaganza!...)

I'm really looking forward to her next novel, The just city - and hoping I get around to reading some of her earlier stuff, too!

Lock in, by John Scalzi

Lock in Book Cover Lock in
John Scalzi
Science fiction
August 28th 2014

I think you should take the time to read the novella Unlocked: An oral history of Haden's syndrome before you get started - you can read it for free!  It's attached at the end of the audio version, which probably also works, but I appreciated having read it before reading the novel.  Also, regarding the audio; Considering trying a Scalzi novel without Wil Wheaton's narration? Go for it, Amber Benson does a great job.

In the near future, a highly contagious new virus with a long incubation time comes down on people all over the globe, sudden and shocking.  Most who get ill get away with a bad case of the flu, some unfortunate ones develop meningitis.  They get better. The tragedy is the percentage of patients who do not - the ones who are fully aware and conscious, but unable to move their body or have their body respond to physical stimulus.  They're locked in. (And there's a good chance you've seen at least one worst case-episode of some medical drama on TV dealing with this trapped-in-body thing. It's a common nightmare, for obvious reasons.)

Terrible virus. I'm sold! I would have been excited to read this even if I didn't have a bunch of Scalzi reading behind me already. I'm happy to say I like this novel a lot better than I liked Hugo-winning Redshirts.  The pace is good; there wasn't a wasted paragraph in there.   In this near-future scenario, the president's wife suffers lock in, and thus provides a name for the illness: Haden's syndrome.   The president responds to the sudden health crisis by funding extensive research, resulting in... a working treatment?  No - but a very interesting work-around.  New technology - new society?

This is the setting for the thriller storyline - which unfolds with humour and camaraderie, as with most Scalzi stories.  (I like the utter absence of romance between a male and female FBI agent, despite them being partners and all. It gets old so fast, even when it's Mulder and Scully.)

I'm not sure how "hard" the science is in this particular work of science fiction, but that's irrelevant - the point is how humans utilize and cope with new abilities, possibilities, technologies.  If we can do this thing, do we do it? If you could hack a thing, how long before you'd do it?  If someone else is able to abuse this thing, what do we have to invent or legislate to protect ourselves from it?

Solid entertainment read, would recommend as attention-gripper for long train rides or just any other time you're looking for something good that doesn't make your brain do a lot of heavy lifting.