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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Ack-Ack Macaque
Gareth L. Powell
Progress: 249/792 pages
Introduction to Topology
Bert Mendelson
Progress: 10/224 pages
Isaac Newton
James Gleick
Progress: 20/289 pages
Basics of Plasma Astrophysics
Claudio Chiuderi, Marco Velli
Progress: 58/250 pages
Ursula K. Le Guin: The Complete Orsinia: Malafrena / Stories and Songs (The Library of America)
Brian Attebery, Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 454/700 pages
A Student's Guide to Lagrangians and Hamiltonians
Patrick Hamill
Progress: 7/180 pages
Complete Poems, 1904-1962
E.E. Cummings
Progress: 232/1102 pages
The Complete Plays and Poems
E.D. Pendry, J.C. Maxwell, Christopher Marlowe
Gravitation (Physics Series)
Kip Thorne;Kip S. Thorne;Charles W. Misner;John Archibald Wheeler;John Wheeler
Progress: 48/1215 pages
I Am a Cat
Graeme Wilson, Aiko Ito, Sōseki Natsume
Progress: 410/638 pages
Summer of Night - Dan Simmons

All Dan Simmons fans know that he can write successfully in any genre he chooses and that he likes to mix horror into various other genres. Here is his YA/horror novel. It's a bit too horrific, profane, violent, sexy and grim to actually appear in the YA section of any bookstore, though, what with all the guns, swearing, incipient sexuality amongst eleven year-olds, kiddie-crime and gruesome, well, horror. Which is, of course, why it's great and worth any eleven-year-old's time (or that of any older person, for that matter). Of course nightmares might be expected because it's so scary but those might not be confined to the 11-year-olds, either.

All the protagonists are 11 except for one who is younger and they are up against something ill-defined, sinister and extremely dangerous - but they don't know that when they decide to investigate the disappearance of a class-mate on the last day of school before the summer of 1960. Of course, being a YA novel, the kids need to solve the problems without the help of adults, a perennial plot-constraint/difficulty of the genre that Simmons deals with superbly. First of all, his choice of setting in small-town Illinois, 1960, is great because it solves most of the problem on its own; kids then ran rampant without supervision for entire days, went camping without adult accompaniment and went wherever they wanted that was within range of their bikes and energy. In our disappearance-investigating kids' small town of Elm Haven, this includes a wide range of locales, such as farmland, woodland, the town dump and the railroad/way. Private gun security in the USA back then seems to be similar to that of today i.e. non-existent and all the kids seem to have been taken shooting by their fathers...

The characterisation is excellent, which is good because there is a mob of kids who get more and more involved in an increasingly dangerous and malicious series of supernatural encounters and they need to be well differentiated from each other. There is, however a slight flaw, which is the writing itself. Generally speaking it is the evocative, atmospheric prose one expects from Simmons, but just occassionally, scattered through-out the book are individual sentences that stand out glaringly as bad - and easily corrected. A minor annoyance in a novel that manages to capture the nostalgia for childhood summer vacations/holidays from school, the fears, concerns and bonds of school-children and the spookiness and dread inspired by the inexplicable events occurring exceedingly well.

Which leads me to say which genre I think this book belongs to: yes, I already claimed it is Simmons' YA novel but I also believe it is his Ray Bradbury novel. Its resemblances to both Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes are striking: small-town Illinois setting, nostalgic look back at childhood summers, unexpected tragedy and evil, nostalgia for old horror films and stories, wannabe writers...

This book perhaps starts slowly but it ramps up to a gripping and terrifying experience and is never dull. It foreshadows later Simmons works such as Drood and The Terror in narrative and thematic approach. It also doesn't suffer from the bane of Simmons' books; mood-destroying/tedium inducing lit.crit. essays.

Great stuff.