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REVIEW: I Travel By Night by Robert McCammon

I have a Robert McCammon bias.  I’ve read nearly all of his books, including the awesome ongoing Matthew Corbett series.  It’s always struck me as odd that none of his novels or stories have ever made it to the big screen (then again maybe that’s a good thing).  I tend to regard him as the cult-status equivalent of Stephen King in my mind, but the truth is that bunching him in there with King isn’t quite right.  McCammon’s writing style is unique in the world of fantasy and horror.  I’ve heard him called verbose by some, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.  McCammon creates extremely visual characters and scenes, action sequences that pop off the page, and hardly ever at the expense of the story or the depth of the characters.  He is one of the few authors that on multiple occasions I actually found myself missing my bus stop because my hands were gripped around one of his novels.

More people than usual laughed at the cover of an older novel, Wolf’s Hour by McCammon when I was reading it, and telling them that it was about a British/Bolshevik spy who is also a werewolf, battling Nazis did not help the matter (I think it’s a cool cover…).

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The fact of the matter is, cover and back cover blurb aside, Wolf’s Hour still remains one of, if not my favorite McCammon novels.  There is romance, political drama, a coming of age story, and yes a ton of great Nazi massacres at the hands of our werewolf hero.  Check it out.

But that’s not why we’re here.

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“He had not been born this way.  No one was.  It was lost in the mists of time who the first one had been and what agreement had spawned such a condition, but now they were legion.”

McCammon’s newest, a much too short novella entitled I Travel By Night follows Trevor Lawson, a southern Civil War soldier turned vampire living in Louisiana in the wild west era.  He works as a for hire vampire fighting against vampires, and shape shifters, as well as hunting down the omniscient and mysterious Dark Society, the key to Lawson’s humanity.  Though the length of the story bothered me a bit, it is mostly for selfish reasons because I could not help myself and read it all in one sitting.  The truth is McCammon packs in a wealth of information about the characters we meet, their pasts, and the new and interesting twists on the vampire myth that he throws into the mix.

McCammon balances gracefully as he does on the edge of ‘fantasy/horror’ and ‘literature’, finding the humanity in each of his characters, and using it to give life to his story, driving it along at breakneck speed.  Already with a vampire novel under his belt, I appreciate that McCammon chose to go in a new direction with this one.  They Thirst is a great play on the vampire myth as well, and I Travel By Night is a reorganized version: new rules and a new history, set for a fun serial where we learn bit by bit about Lawson and the world he lives in, his abilities, and about the Dark Society that is both his enemy and his last hope of redemption. I highly recommend this one and all of McCammon’s works!

Let’s just hope that there’s a plan for another one soon.

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Enough Books To Make Me Wonder Whether I Was A Book Too

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I read a lot.  Incessantly.  Chances are, nine times out of ten if you run into me on the street or public transportation I am reading or at least have a book on me.  I have even mastered the ancient forgotten art of Read Walking, lost with the extinction of my ancestors, the great Rahoosh civilization, around the beginning of the 15th century.  I wouldn’t call my reading habits a compulsion, because that implies that I get no pleasure from it, which is not true. Most of the time my reactions while reading are far more verbal than when I am watching a TV show or a movie.  When I was younger I treated books almost as if they were alive. I never folded pages over. I was mortified at the idea of breaking a book’s spine, and would cringe when others would.  At a very young age, upon witnessing someone break a book’s spine I would yell “would you break a little chipmunk’s spine?!” or some other bizarre comment.  It was bad.  Reading was more of a peeking into my books, like something might pop out and punch me in the face.  You could never tell if I had even read the books that were quickly stacking up in every corner of my house.  While at the time it felt like a science, in retrospect I look back and wonder what the hell I was thinking?  That’s not to say that nowadays I go out of my way to crack the spine of every book I read, but I don’t have that nagging fear that if I do, the same author’s other books will come when I’m sleeping, and leave a burned book at the foot of my bed.  When I was little my perception of books were that they were a little overwhelming.  The fact that I was attempting to read mostly Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Ayn Rand did not help in the anxiety.  It might be an understatement to say I didn’t full grasp what was going on in any of them, but still enough to realize that all of the characters in all of these books were just so horribly sad. 

Soon I moved on to horror novels, and found Stephen King had replaced Dostoevsky, Richard Matheson instead of Tolstoy and James Herbert instead of Ayn Rand.  I won’t get into the fine distinctions between what classifies something as “literature” and why “horror” must be a separate section in your (now endangered) local book store, but I found books like Cujo, Pet Semetery, or I Am Legend spoke to me on a much more personal level.  For example, Cujo is about more than what you imagine when you think of the story from the movie adaptation–a dog with rabies, set on killing everyone–what struck me was the family, and really hoping that they would be okay, and that this killer dog was actually still the loyal guardian of the family, struggling with his own very literal demon.  He was merely a catalyst to get this family to start examining their lives and where things may have started to go wrong.  I had seen the movie before I read the book and remember thinking that it was a bit silly, but the book completely flipped those ideas on their head.  Cujo had made me cry!  I remember thinking how bizarre that was, that maybe I could chalk it up to teenage hormones running rampant, messing with my mind.  But it wasn’t hormones, it was just that it was actually a fine story disguised as a trashy horror novel.  Something most people, even people who enjoy Stephen King, move right past without giving a second thought. 

From there I expanded my horizons even further: science fiction, fantasy, mystery thrillers, etc.  I soon found no book would be daunting, even a 1000 page Russian classic, if you could find the humanity within, the personal struggle that is really driving the story along. The Cujo, if you will. Because that goes above and beyond critical reading, or searching for metaphors and rhetoric, its a universal theme that everybody can grasp at some level.  And that is what I enjoy searching for and exploring when I read.

Which brings us back to why we are all here today.  I have a near compulsion to discuss or at least relay what I read to anybody who will listen.  A big problem for me is that generally nobody I knows reads the same books that I do (which granted does not stop me from relating an entire story’s plot in one sitting), so I find myself very often asking questions about books, movies or comics that no one I know has an answer for.  Hopefully you enjoy discussing these things as well (or else what the hell are you doing still reading this??), and this blog can serve both in allowing me an outlet and a useful resource for like minded people out there, searching for recommendations and opinions.  

What I’d like to do here is offer that, on whatever book I happen to be reading (old or new), comic, TV show, movie, etc.  I want to find what makes a story that anybody can relate to because of its exploration (or lack of) the human experience.  You know, questions like why do we feel a greater need to cry when you see an animal die in a movie, but if a human dies in that same movie you could feel next to nothing? How do stories manipulate our perception of the world to serve their own needs, or vice versa?  I don’t know.  But maybe we can dig deep enough to, if not actually answer these questions, have discussions that make you think even further. 

What I really hope to accomplish is to broaden your horizons.  Some of you may shy away from the idea of reading books deemed as horror novels, but I really think that anybody could find something that speaks directly to them, from any book so long as it is written well.  Maybe you feel sort of trapped within a genre and you don’t know why, like I did with old classics when I was younger.  You feel some sort of vague responsibility to only read within your selected genre.  But there is a whole new world of literary works out there that you would never have given a second glance that actually could change the way you look at the world.

So here’s what to expect:

1. Reviews based on books, movies or TV that strike my fancy.  I will try primarily to speak, instead of heavy plot summaries (because nobody likes spoilers), about the human experience within these stories, and if they transcend the traditional genre divides that exists between “literature” and basically everything else.

2. Weekly updates on comics as they arrive in stores, letting people know what new series I have been checking out and have something worth saying or art that is really cool.  Maybe soon I’ll be able to even link it up to a website so you can read about the new comics I’ve picked and you’ll be able to click a button that puts that issue in a box with your name on it at your local comic store…it all depends on how this goes!

3. Hopefully soon, depending on how many people are interested in these postings, an interactive book club where I can join you as you read through a book and hopefully incite some good discussions.

4. Probably going to be some general musings popping up every once in a while as well.

I’m going to make sure that I play it close to the chest as much as I can, and only really delve into the themes and ideas that are universal and go above and beyond a particular time and place, and speak to you as a person. 

So come along with me to places that probably only the Doctor could take you: whether it is imperialist Russia, or imperialist Russia in space 1,000 years in the future, where humanity has devolved into toad creatures, because chances are even these toad people from the distant future have struggles that we can find in ourselves and relate to. 

-N.A.

 

 

 

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