Thursday, January 30, 2014

...and the saga continues: The Spawning, by Tim Curran (Book Two of The Hive Series)

Elder Signs Press, 2010
383 pp


"They didn't take the hint that the Kharkov Tragedy was the only warning this world was going to get.." 

Building on the events both in Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness and in Curran's previous novel in this series The Hive, The Spawning opens once again during the long, dark Antarctic winterIt seems that in the meantime, what happened at Kharkov Station some years earlier has become fodder for conspiracy theorists, since the powers that be have covered up and put their own collective spins on the truth.  Unlike my experience while reading Hive, which was a little slow for me, I couldn't put this one down. It's weird (in the weird-fiction sense of the term), coolishly pulpy, and this time my tension level remained on high throughout most of the novel.  If you haven't read At the Mountains of Madness or The Hive, it's okay -- better if you have but The Spawning fills you in on the backstory enough so that you don't feel like you've missed too much.

With a prologue that's bound to get your rapt attention as twenty-five British scientists disappear from Mount Hobb station, it doesn't take long until you're in the middle of a lot of gut-twisting action, beginning at US/NSF station Polar Clime.  It starts when a helicopter crashes from nearby Colony Station, a top secret, hush-hush area "with armed guards and motion detectors," like "Area 51 or something" where "they had to keep people away."  Teams from Polar Clime are sent to the crash site, and right away one of the men, Slim, notices something odd about the crash itself.  Trying to extricate bodies from the wreckage, Slim happens to see something under a tarp, which right away, his friend Coyle realizes is "more than just a charred body...Something bad."  It isn't long until the "spooks" from Colony Station appear; their leader, Dayton orders the Polar Clime teams to leave. Coyle realizes something's off -- and not just with the crash. As he notes:

"The whole scenario was spooky and strange. First Mount Hobb and then this crash and now Dayton with his James Bond shit."
But "spooky and strange" will turn out to be an understatement.  After returning to Polar Clime, Coyle decides he'll join some of the others in viewing a live NASA feed of the historic landing of the Cassini 3 spacecraft as it lands on Jupiter's moon Callisto.  As they're watching, the craft's camera records "a series of interconnected megaliths" that will set off a chain of events that will eventually affect the entire world as we know it. Add to this horrific occasion a number of strange doings at  the NOAA Field Lab Polaris and Emperor Ice Station on the Beardmore Glacier, and it will be all Coyle and his companions can do to maintain their sanity and stay alive in the process.  

The tension builds from the novel's beginning and rarely lets up.  The chapters are short, the action moves around from place to place but never lingers too long in one spot, keeping the reader hooked.  Once again, as in Hive, Curran builds on the work of Lovecraft without copying his tone or style, letting his own writer voice come through.  Thematically, one of the main themes reveals that in their zeal to maintain secrecy, the government and other powers that be keep too many secrets and ignore lessons from the past that probably should have been heeded -- in this case, to the detriment of the world's population.  Once again though the characters seem a little bit too pat, often bordering on stereotypical; the whole us vs. them (the common man vs. the government and the scientists) is also very obvious. Also, while the story moves along at a good pace, Curran sometimes spends a little too much time with his characters pondering what all of this means.  However, I enjoyed The Spawning much more than its predecessor -- and the cliffhanger ending left me wanting much more.  So come on, Tim Curran -- it's been four years already -- time for the next installment!

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.