Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Anthony Neil Smith and Jonathan Maberry on terrorism

As I promised, I'll say some things about Anthony Neil Smith's and Jonathan Maberry's new books, Yellow Medicine and Patient Zero. Well, they are not new anymore, since these guys seem to be very active. Smith has been fiercely promoting his real new book, Hogdoggin', and based on his Facebook status updates, Maberry has a new book or a comic script coming out every month. (He just announced he's doing the novelization of The Wolfman, the coming film by Guillermo del Toro.)

Why am I putting the two books together? They both deal with international terrorism, the threat from Islamic infiltrators and warmongers. The results couldn't be much different from each other, but both books have cynical loners coming up with new courage to deal with terrorism. Anthony Neil Smith is a bit more ambiguous about the battle and its gains than Maberry, but there's always a bit of doubt in Maberry's hero, too.

Someone has said that in Patient Zero Maberry puts "terror" back in "terrorism". Well, that's about right, since the Islamic terrorists have invented a new virus - no: a prion (remember the mad cow's disease?) - that transforms people into empty-eyed, flesh-eating corpses. The US government sets up a secret group of some bad-ass motherfuckers to deal with these new kind of zombies, and the leader of the group is one Joe Ledger, a loner cop whose attitude towards life can be summed as: "I don't really give a fuck, unless someone I care about is in danger."

Maberry has no qualms in depicting all the terrorists as pure evil, scary one-track minded persons who cheat and lie. Given the book's genre, that could be just an advantage, but having something else, too, might bring some more life into the book. I also thought the book could've used some trimming - I was thinking if it might've been better if Maberry had concentrated only on the Americans trying to come up with an explanation, especially since the book is told both in Joe Ledger's first-person narration and the third-person narration (which is omniscient at times). If Maberry had sticked with Ledger, the result might've been a lot better.

That said, I found the book very exciting, especially battle scenes in which zombies are slaughtered by the dozen. Maberry handles that stuff very well and I found myself thinking: "Why isn't there more of this?"

Now, Anthony Neil Smith has something else in his mind in Yellow Medicine, his first book from Bleak House Books. Deputy Billy Lafitte, working somewhere in the back fields of Minnesota, has some trouble with his own life and with some other people's lives as well. In fact he's a shrewd manipulator and a liar in the best Jim Thompson sense. But take this pathetic anti-hero and put him in the middle of the terrorist plan to gather up money through drug trafficking in Minnesota (obviously as good place to start as any) and you'll find there's lots of courage in him.

In Yellow Medicine Smith spins a mean tale in which no one is taken prisoner and there's always some doubt in the back of the reader's mind: should we really believe in this guy's heroics and should we take a stand with him?

However, Yellow Medicine could've been trimmed a bit. Smith uses a technique that works fine in, say, the Coen brothers' Blood Simple: tell first what happens and tell only afterwards why it happened the way it happened. In Yellow Medicine the technique feels forced at times. The opening is great, though, in just this respect.

Both books would make great movies, by the way.

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