Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Strain

The Strain, by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan, is the first book in a trilogy about an outbreak of vampirism in modern-day New York. A jet lands at JFK airport with its entire crew and passengers seemingly dead (a la the Demeter), with a mysterious coffin-like cabinet aboard. This first sequence is taut, and the free preview available on is what lead me to check the book out, but it's misleading. Whereas those first 28 pages are full of foreboding, that quickly fades as the book then goes on for literally hundreds of pages before anything interesting happens. The book is padded with repetitive sequences of uninteresting characters stumbling to their doom (usually at the hands of vampirized family members), and whatever is mildly interesting (the ancient vampire clans, the corporate conspiracy behind the outbreak) is left implied, presumably to be fleshed out in the next two volumes.

All that said, the real cardinal sin of The Strain is that it's just not scary. The vampires, an uneasy mix of traditional folklore and biological pathogen, are too mindless to work as the "monstrous human" of traditional vampires, while remaining too silly (the Master vampire still runs around in a cape) to work as scientific horror. It also doesn't help that none of the characters are engaging enough to fear for their safety. The protagonist is a recovering alcoholic workaholic who blames his ex-wife and her new boyfriend for the dissolution of his marriage, so you can guess how the authors lazily have this whiny jerk get his satisfaction. The rest of the supporting cast are cardboard cutouts, except for the absurdly over-the-top Van Helsing-esque vampire hunting ex-professor pawn broker, an 80+ year old with a heart condition and crippled hands who still swashbuckles around decapitating vampires with his silver cane-sword while belching his ridiculous catchphrase: "My sword sings of silver!"

Yeah, it's that bad. In the end, the book reads more like the pilot script for a television series, with more effort spent on creating antagonists and situation than resolving conflicts, setting us up for the next episode (book two) but not offering anything like a good read. Mercifully, it was a quick read, although I admit that by the end, I just shuffled through the tedious action scenes. The Strain was shit, and del Toro should still to movies.

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