August 12th, 2007

Godzilla Breath

He Didn't Save Every One of Us

I've seen a lot of bad TV in my time, from Manimal to Double Trouble to Three's a Crowd. But I can say without exaggeration that the pilot episode of the SciFi Channel's new Flash Gordon series is one of the worst things I have ever seen. The campy 1980 movie looks like Citizen Kane in comparison.

Lazy characterization, wooden acting, the worst kind of expository dialogue, cheap effects, poor plotting, a leering attitude toward women, and enormous logic problems, such as an alien who's been on Earth for two seconds suddenly knowing how to drive a truck. I wanted to turn it off after 30 minutes, but for some reason I forced myself to watch it all the way through. Kind of like poking a sore tooth with your tongue. You know you shouldn't, but you keep doing it anyway.

I couldn't delete it from my DVR fast enough. This show is already dead to me. The TV Nerd has spoken!

13 Bullets

As an author, David Wellington's strength has always been in taking a particular well-worn trope and changing it in a way that makes it new and exciting again. He did it with zombies in his 2006 debut Monster Island, and he does it again with vampires in this year's 13 Bullets.

These vampires are nasty creatures, which to me is a welcome change from the emo boys in ruffled shirts who sit around sipping absinthe in so much of today's vampire fiction. Wellington's vampires don't stay young and pretty forever either. They may be immortal, but that doesn't mean they don't age and rot. Also, they don't leave two little pin holes in your neck. Their mouths are filled with shark-like teeth, and they basically tear you apart. (They also vomit blood into each others' mouths like mama birds feeding their young. Awesome! And gross!)

Despite all that, 13 Bullets isn't exactly a horror novel. The relentless action and police-procedural structure make it more of an adventure tale with a few gross-outs and gothic touches. The story follows Pennsylvania State Trooper Laura Caxton and FBI Special Deputy Jameson Arkeley as they track the murderous brood of the imprisoned, corpse-like vampire Malvern. Wellington sets up a world in which vampires are neither an impossibility nor a secret -- everyone knows they exist -- and this works to his advantage. There are no eyeroll-inducing scenes where the characters have to get other people to just listen and you've got to believe me. Wellington is also not afraid to inflict lasting physical damage on his protagonists through the course of the story. These aren't supermen, they're just people and they can get really, really hurt, something other authors sometimes forget.

My only quibble is that the story moves too quickly. We don't really get to know Caxton and Arkeley as well as I would have liked because they never stop running, shooting and yelling at each other, but 13 Bullets is the first in a trilogy, so there should be plenty of time for more characterization.

(Caveat: David Wellington is a good friend. He's also a member of my writing group, Who Wants Cake, though he wrote this novel before joining. And though his wife Elisabeth is a professional chef and makes the best brownies I've ever tasted, none were used to influence this review.)

Up next, Nate Kenyon's Bloodstone, which I've been meaning to read for a year now!

(The Straubathon will continue soon, I promise. Hopefully before the end of the year. I just have a few more books I need to get to first.)