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The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner

August 12, 2014 2 comments

The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner

The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner (Dark Fuse, 2014), 2014) is a novella-length story about the World After. Yes, aliens have invaded Earth and, despite Hollywood’s pious hopes for gung-ho marines to save the day, they have subdued the survivors. Those selected as Thralls do the will of the invaders or face punishment. This time, Dan is on his way to deliver a “package” to his Master. This involves him driving his ancient Oldsmobile along what’s left of Interstate 75, watching as the thorn-stalks part to allow him along the Way, helping to keep him safe from the predators living in the wilderness alongside the road. As always, his task is simple. He has found an unmarked survivor and has her trussed up on the back seat. Once he has delivered her to his Master, all will be well (until the next time the summons comes).

Tim Waggoner

Tim Waggoner

So in the space of a few sentences, I’ve described a science fiction/horror crossover novella in which the rump of humanity survives under the jackboots of the few Thralls (the story is less than forthcoming about exactly how many of the population have survived nor how they are being farmed for sacrifice — I suppose an explanation of this forward planning is not really required for the purposes of this story). The plot is a simple device. We have the set-up to describe the invasion (if that’s the right way to describe it — perhaps arrival might be more appropriate) and then the backstories of Dan the Thrall and Alice, the sacrificial victim on the back seat. As is always required in stories like this, our protagonist is making good progress until he gets close to his destination. Then, as authors will it, the wheel falls off and we’re down to the last mile before death and destruction befall them both.

There’s some interesting imagery on display and some of the ideas will be considered moderately extreme by some readers. This is not a story for people who faint at the sight of blood. The plot moves along quickly and, despite the lack of any clear explanation of how the aliens arrived, how they manipulated the flora and fauna so quickly to produce these rather weird new forms, and how they are managing the food in their larder so it will not run out any time soon, this is a take-no-prisoners race to the finish line. So long as you’re not looking for any deep thinking, The Last Mile is very good of its type.

For a review of a novel by Tim Waggoner, see Night Terrors.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner

April 19, 2014 2 comments

Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner

Having read and enjoyed some of this author’s short stories, I thought it time to have a look at one of his novels. This is convenient because Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner (Angry Robot, 2014) is the first in the new Shadow Watch series. Audra Hawthorne and her ideation Jinx are the headline pair. OK so here we go with the set-up. Out there (somewhere that’s not outer space because this is not SFnal interplanetary material), there’s the Maelstrom (not the Scandinavian whirlpool but a cache of uncontrolled energy). This can bleed through into both our world and the Land of Nod, the world of sleep and dreams. The result can be chaotic as what was ordered and predictable becomes less so. Humans can ideate, i.e. create creatures out of their dreams by drawing on the Maelstrom. If they do this, they don’t need to sleep. In turn, this messes with their heads and leads to them making mistakes unless they do the R&R thing. Anyway, Audra has dreamed up Jinx and, together, they are a team committed to keeping both worlds free from attack by other creatures formed out of Maelstrom stuff. We start off with our duo in Chicago chasing after Quietus, an assassin who’s already killed three humans. They capture him but, when they go through the door into the Land of Nod, they are mugged by a local and a mercenary, and lose their prisoner. This is embarrassing and the boss of this trans-dimensional law enforcement organisation may take this as a symptom of less than the peak efficiency expected of all his teams.

Tim Waggoner

Tim Waggoner

On the face of it, this is a very interesting concept. Ignoring the far past, humans can interact with the energy field and create incubi out of the Maelstrom. These beings now populate the Land of Nod which has separated itself out as a dimensional home for them. However, some can pass between our world and Nod. This gives them separate daytime and nighttime bodies. Their personalities may also change on transition. Their two “halves” are not mirror images, but there’s a tendency to polarise as opposites. So the incubi are created by humans but, for the most part, are not dependent on them for continued existence. This leads to interesting quasi-religious questions about the process of creation among the incubi. However, some humans ideate specific beings and there’s a much higher degree of interdependence. As a child, Audra had a number of “unresolved issues” which led to her having an increasingly specific fear of a clown. Over time, this “clown” took on substance and became the being now called Jinx. Because he was born out of her fear, she’s never completely bonded with him. A small part of her continues to fear him. Consequently, their relationship as a law enforcement team is not as effective as it might be — I should mention that humans are teamed with incubi so they can police both inhabited dimensions.

Whether by accident or design, most books sit comfortably in an obvious genre class. But this book rather playfully blurs the line between science fiction and urban fantasy. Let’s put the question of creationism to one side and focus on the “as is”. We have two parallel dimensions, one populated predominantly by humans, the other by incubi. But there are portals or doorways which enable beings to pass from one dimension to the other (there’s a feature not unlike the Bajoran wormhole phenomenon in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine connected with these doorways). Mostly due to the humans, a considerable amount of science has been devoted to researching the Maelstrom itself and the systems enabling different features to manifest. This has led to the development of real technology to exploit Maelstrom energy as weapons and otherwise to exploit the way in which incubi can manipulate dimensional space. The older incubi were initially not interested in science and so were, with one exception, marginalised. This book sees the self-proclaimed Lords of Misrule showing off the results of some of their more recent research. That said, the plot itself largely conforms to the urban fantasy model. Young girl with supernatural clown buddy have the job of keeping the city of Chicago safe from incubi (that’s demons if you want it in more obvious fantasy terms). They face a number of threats, are thought less than effective, and are replaced by more senior operatives. This leads to our duo teaming up with a young man and his pet dog to take on all-comers. There’s the whiff of romance in the air, and lots of fighting with none of the “good guys” seriously threatened. Indeed, one of the problems with this plot is the ease with which the incubi repair their bodies and avoid what should be certain death. It leads to a certain lack of suspense as they get into trouble and escape with only a scratch that’s healing rapidly as they walk away. Even though a human, Audra is feisty and also manages not to be too serious injured — it’s a gift most heroines enjoy in a series where romance is in the air.

Put all this together and you have a very professional package based on an interesting idea. Anyone who wants to see a slightly different version of urban fantasy will find this highly readable. For them as likes this type of book, Night Terrors is a very good buy.

For a review of another book by Tim Waggoner, see The Last Mile.

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

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