If you are already planning on reading ‘Pandemonium’ by Daryl Gregory, don’t read any further. There are no more spoilers here than on the back cover blurb, but …
I went on a Daryl Gregory binge last weekend. I’d had ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’ on my wishlist at The Book Depository for some time, and received a price drop alert, so I pushed it up the queue and purchased it. While I was doing that, I looked at his other novels and immediately bought ‘Pandemonium’.
‘Pandemonium’ – what’s not to love? The blurb had me by the end of the second sentence: ‘It is a world like our own [except that in] the 1950s, random acts of possession began to occur’. OK, done, sold. If only I hadn’t read the description further, what a great ‘What the … ?’ moment I would have had (and I live for those moments, folks). His ‘quest for help leads him to Valis, an entity possessing the science fiction writer formerly known as Philip K Dick’. BAM! Hit ‘Purchase now’. Two of my favourite books are ‘The Exorcist’ and ‘Valis’, all my buttons were hit and lit up.
I have to confess, I would have preferred a different resolution, that the clues that had been laid led to a different place, but hey, I enjoyed the weird ride, and the ultimate ending was satisfying. The stranger the setting, the odder the world, it is essential, but harder, to create believable characters. The protagonist was believable with his existential struggle and nightmare life, and I cared about him and the crises he faced.
I went straight from that to ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’, also set in a world like our own, except that George Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was a documentary of a zombie outbreak that was quickly contained, and now the world lives in fear of a repeat performance.
I know there are people who hate zombies. The official position of Clarkesworld is that there are no good zombie stories. ‘Stony’ is a good story, that happens to be about zombies. Purists might not like them, hell, for those for whom the big debate is fast v slow zombies, the deviations and twists to the standard zombie line here may be too much. Too bad, I enjoyed it, I liked the protagonist and the choices he was faced with, I was intrigued by the world of disappearances and secret prisons, of zombie politics and terrorism.
I was then in a bookstore and saw Gregory’s latest, ‘Afterparty’, and stopped myself. Patience, David, patience, leave yourself something for later.
I’ve said it before, I’m no reviewer (at least I didn’t use the word ‘nice’, bugger, there it is, it slipped in), but I can say I really enjoyed ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘Raising Stony Mayhall’, both rose above so much predictable genre work, satisfying my need for good story and weird shit.