Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: I Am Legend [Richard Matheson]

Bookgasm. 'Nuff said.

Post-Apocalyptic Castaway?

Once in a while, you come across a book that makes your inner bookworm orgasm. You know you've had one when you find yourself going "squeeeee!" like a crazed teenage girl over some male pop idol long after you've finished the book.

Richard Matheson's "Hell House" has been on my reading wish list for quite some time now, so when I came across this 2006 edition of I Am Legend + short stories/Hell House in a secondhand bookstore, I snapped it up in a millisecond.

Funny thing is, I was never interested in reading "I Am Legend." I mistakenly thought it was similar in plot to the movie of the same title starring Will Smith, or to "The Omega Man", starring Charlton Heston. (I remember watching this as a kid- my maiden aunts are BIG Charlton Heston fans). Since neither movie really appealed to me, when it came to the book, I was like, meh.

I shall now try to repress said fan girl (SQUEEEEEEE!!!!) slightly, lest I give away the entire story in this review in my enthusiasm. Well, either that, or the whole thing shall end up being punctuated by a whole bunch of squees.

Robert Neville is the last man on earth. Our setting is post-war, and due to biological warfare, a pandemic has spread and turned everyone around him into mindless, bloodsucking creatures. (Quite the zombie-vampire mix.) 

When we first meet Robert, he has been alone for several months and has given into depression and alcoholism. He has lost both wife and daughter to the disease, and his current life is an endless cycleby day, he sets out to kill as many vampires as he can; by night, he is imprisoned in his own house, drinking, while vampires surround his house, crying out for his blood until the break of dawn.

As the story progresses, Robert eventually meets another living creature - a dog. It is this contact with life that snaps him out of his depression and inspires him to turn his energies into studying the vampire, in hopes of finally finding a cure and restoring humanity.

My take on this tale? To label Richard Matheson as a horror novelist is a gross understatement, and trying to put a genre to "I Am Legend" is kind of like trying to fit a square through a circular hole. It is more than just a horror story written to terrify its readers. It is a philosophical dialogue on a lone man struggling to survive and all the while, looking for a reason to. It is a crash course in biology, a study on social behavior and psychological conditioning, among other things. It won't take long before you're sucked into the story and you're identifying with the protagonist. A few chapters on and I found myself cheering Robert on his ingeniousness, his ability to adapt, and sympathizing with his frustrations and sadness. Richard Matheson is a true master of words. The beauty of the story mainly lies in that he has given Robert Neville a soul.

One of my favorite parts is when Robert snaps out his depression and starts researching and experimenting to find out more about the disease. Oh, the details! I loved how Matheson has a plausible explanation for every aspect of the vampirefrom the physical evolution to the folklore surrounding it. Kudos to Matheson for using "hysterical blindness" (psychological conditioning + insanity) to explain why a Christian vampire would fear the cross, the Jewish vampire the torah, a Buddhist vampire the swastika, and so on. (Thank you, Mr. Matheson, for the United Colors of Vampirism.)

Oh, and of course, the ending. The last chapter was headed towards a direction I really, really didn't like. So there I was, seething, trying to keep my violent reactions in check until the very end. And then, all of a sudden, this master of words was able to deftly wrap the story up FLAWLESSLY, BEAUTIFULLY, PERFECTLY (SQUEEEEE! SQUEEEEE!), in a way that melted my heart and left me shaking my head in disbelief at how he was able to do that with JUST THREE SHORT PARAGRAPHS. Amazing.

Published in 1954, Richard Matheson's "I Am Legend" has been hailed by many as a pioneer for the global apocalypse/zombie genre, and also as "the first modern vampire novel". Sad, if you think about it, about how the paranormal genre have now evolved mostly into love stories between suicidal teenage girls and emo paranormal entities attending high school for eternity. Oh, and vampires now sparkle in sunlight too!

But then, as Robert Neville puts it, "Normalcy [is] a majority concept, the standard of many and not the standard of just one man." And the sarcasm of this blogger probably just stems from her love for a more eloquent bygone era. 

For classic movie buffs, the 1964 film "The Last Man on Earth" starring Vincent Price is the closest movie adaptation to the novel.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book Review: Satan Burger [Carlton Mellick III]

RATING: Pretty good! :D
Mmm... Appetizing :/

Imagine this world is a child, and God its indulgent father. Child Earth is bored with his human toys, so God opens up a soul-fueled portal called the Walm that leads to different universes to give his child new toys.

So now our world is overrun by different species: tiny cockroach people, gorgeous hermaphroditic blue women, incredibly wealthy Hogs, poisonous giant scorpion flies that are terrified of female baboons, and a myriad of other creatures that live in Carlton Mellick’s grotesque imagination. 

In the midst of this chaos, God decides to stop letting people die, to keep Heaven from overpopulating. So on one hand, we’ve got the soul-ful dead rotting away while still very conscious about it and the soulless living staring at walls and shrugging, without a care in the world.

Our narrator is an ex-junkie named Leaf who sees himself in a third-person perspective. He and his friends are the few people in this world who have managed to hang on to their souls, and still have a passion to live.

Enter Satan. 

Satan, who is in the soul business, is worried he might not have any more souls to reap. And if there are no more souls to reap, Hell will cease to exist. So Satan opens up a burger joint called “Satan Burger”, which sells deep-fried burgers “so good, you’d gladly sell your soul for one of ‘em”. 

Unfortunately, every un-living thing Satan touches comes to life, so he offers Leaf and his friends to work for him. After all, nobody wants to buy demon burgers that eat and shit and scream when you try to eat them now, do they? Leaf and his friends agree to form an alliance with the devil to keep hanging on to their souls, and to find a niche in a world that no longer has a place for them.

I really enjoyed reading this book. Satan Burger is at times hilarious, at times angry, at times depressingly desperate. The story is very much alive not only because it is jam-packed with emotions, but also because it is richly detailed. Each place gives off its own atmosphere. Each species has its own culture, its own unique anatomical features and functions. (Read, and you'll see.) Mellick hasn't just created a world, he's created an entire fucking universe!

Satan Burger is long, roughly about 230 pages, single-spaced, size 8 TNR font. The in-depth descriptions are something to rave about, though there are parts that read like ramblings that felt more like fillers than actually having something to do with the novel at all.

Although I couldn't totally relate with the characters because I’m not into the punk scene, I admire Mellick’s character creation. It’s something he’s really good ateach character has his own backstory, his own idiosyncrasies. For example, Leaf and his addiction to drugs, leading to his third-person perspective of himself. Or the brothers Gin and Vodka, the vampire-wannabe (guess what their father was drinking during the time of their births? :P). Or even Mortician, the Japanese guy who dresses and talks like a pirate. 

However, my favorite character would be the Devil himself. I applaud Mellick’s version of Satan. He’s powerful, fearsome, and gayer than a goose. The scene where Nan screams bloody hell at Satan for keeping on touching her dead boyfriend Gin and bringing different body parts alive (Gin’s hand, pinkie, dreadlocks, and right butt cheek now has their own lives) is classic:

Nan: “What the hell did you touch his penis for??”
Satan (shaking his head childishly): “I didn’t touch it.”
(Nan unzips Gin’s pants to reveal a dancing worm. The worm wriggles excitedly. Its mouth has developed from Gin’s pisshole and Gin’s bladder is now its stomach sack, two small eyes on the sides of its head, quite like a snake’s.)
Satan: “I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. You know, it’s not easy being the only gay person left. I have urges that are hard to resist."
Nan: “What the hell am I supposed to do with a living penis??

On a deeper level, Satan Burger is a reminder for each of us to keep on being children – to have a zest for living, to hold on to our ideals and to fight for them. As Mellick puts it, “The world becomes clearer and clearer the older we become, much less mysterious/exciting and all its appeal we experienced during childhood turns logical, and logic is a dirty and boring word.”

Four stars.