Friday, January 17, 2014

Hive, by Tim Curran

Elder Signs Press, Inc, 2009
269 pp

paper (first ed.)

"Nothing stays buried forever at the Pole."

Hive is the first in a series of two books, followed by The Spawning, which I haven't yet read.  I own both books in their original paperback editions; a good thing since the prices of these two books have gone way up since their original publication dates.  Billed as a sequel to HP Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, Hive takes its readers back to Antarctica decades after the original Pabodie expedition; if you've read Lovecraft's work, you'll remember that at the end (without giving away the show if you haven't) of that story, the narrator and expedition leader William Dyer clearly warned any future expeditions to stay away from Antarctica.  Obviously, the warning went unheeded. While I liked the overall story, the premise and especially the claustrophic Antarctic setting, in truth, this was a book I could read a while, put down, and wait to come back to. In the realm of weird fiction, that's unheard of for me.

Kharkov research station is the setting for this story -- Antarctica is in its winter which means total darkness, storms and for the crew at the station, isolation.  As the novel opens, paleobiologist and professor Gates is returning to Kharkov after his team discovered some frozen, mummified corpses buried in the ice.  He deposits his finds in Hut #6 where the mummies are definite objects of curiosity for the station's crew, creatures unlike anything anyone has ever seen before.  While Lind, the plumber is first in awe over how famous Gates' discovery is going to make everyone at Kharkov Station once the spring comes, Hayes, the mechanic is less enthused.  After seeing the mummies up close though, Lind  has second thoughts, warning everyone not to stay alone with these creatures.  The sense of dread and bizarre events that follow aren't helped by  NSF administrator  Dennis LaHune, who makes everything worse by cutting off the crew's contact with the outside world, setting himself up as an enemy to Hayes and eventually to Sharkey, station doctor.  Lind's sense of danger will turn out to be prophetic; it isn't long until the strange effects of having these creepy corpses at the station are experienced by all. But what are these things and what is the strange power they hold over everyone?

There is a very highly-developed atmosphere of isolation, darkness, and utter hopelessness that runs throughout this novel, and at times when that feeling of dread set in, it was all I could do sometimes to prevent myself from turning to the back to see if the main characters were still there at the end.  Sadly, the  hackle-raising sense of fear that exists in spots was overpowered by how many times the characters stop to expound on the nature of these creatures, often the same things over and over again. For me, this need to analyze things to death, along with the often-stereotypical characters, is what prevented this novel from being the gut puncher it could have been.  To his credit though, Curran has his own voice, unlike some authors who've taken Lovecraft's work and tried to turn it into theirs, all too often unsuccessfully.

Reader response varies -- some found it absolutely stunning, while others have kind of a middle-of-the-road reaction, and still others didn't care for it at all.  I am going to read the second book, and as a rule, I like Curran's fiction so despite my fault finding with Hive, I have no plans to stop reading his work.   I'd say read it, keeping in mind the caveats I've listed above.

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