NAMING OF PARTS
wait, don't roll your eyes. this odd novella by obscure but somewhat aclaimed english author Tim Lebbon is something different.
it is set during a small family's panicky flight away from their rural home and takes place entirely in the mind of its pre-teen narrator. clues to the nature of the threat are dropped here and there in an almost offhand fashion, but the focus is really elsewhere: (1) the state of shock of the family and (2) flashbacks to the narrator's relationship with his sister. the writing is surprisingly beautiful at times. there are sequences of visceral gore where the horror is of the in-your-face variety, but mainly this is all about dread and terror and confusion and a constant, sickening feeling of unease about what may come next. the opening sequence, when our lad hears scrapings at the windows in the deep of night, is perfectly accomplished. the whole novel manages to be both a tightly paced thriller and a digressive extended contemplation on the nature of family. job well-done, Lebbon.
my only complaints are that it is sometimes quite overwritten, particularly with the repetitive emphasis on "The Naming of Parts", and at times the narrator seems way older than his years. that really annoyed me. now i bet the english school system is miles ahead of the american school system, so i tried not to be aggravated by some word choices that felt wrong. but the kid often thinks about things in a way that is clearly coming from an adult mind. i wish the author had shown a bit more consistency in that regard, because it was genuinely off-putting.
still, overall, this is a great novella and a very pleasing surprise.
CHANGING OF FACES
it's the full moon... shape-shifting were-things attack!
this is the sequel to Naming of Parts... and yet it is so completely different. Alien vs. Aliens kind of different. different goals, different style, different tone, different set-up entirely.
a few weeks after the events in Naming of Parts, the zombies have apparently died off. survivors are holed up in an abandoned ferry that has washed up on shore - and now there are horrifyingly gigantor-sized animal-people on the prowl, waiting to eat people up. so what does this mean? has the scifi horror rationale been replaced by some kind of dark fantasy horror rationale? are both novels a kind of extended metaphor? Lebbon doesn't really explain things, so be prepared to just let certain key questions go. overall, Changing of Faces is pretty good - Lebbon's command of language and ambiguity and his ability to create an atmosphere of constant dread remain at a high level. the opening attack sequence, as survivors react to the bizarre, horrendous, totally surprising onslaught... top-notch. genuinely unnerving.
it does lose its way after that. not so much that it becomes a bad read - it is enjoyably tense and exciting from beginning to end. it just seems to lose focus. an extended riff on a kind of Gingerbread House (complete with cannibalistic old lady) is eye-opening but also rather annoying, somewhat overly-familiar. and the novella ends on the worst kind of cliffhanger climax. ugh.
but still, i would say that this is a good one. it is certainly an original.