Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism
By Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden; Read by Nick Podehl
4 Hours – [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / Horror / Puppets / Possession /
When this audio novella came in for review, it took a few days to make the connection: Mike Mignola is the creator of Hellboy! I’m a fan of the Hellboy movies (directed by Guillermo del Toro), but haven’t picked up any of the comics. If anyone has a recommendation for a particular volume I’d like to give it a go.
Mignola and Christopher Golden, the writing team that produced some Hellboy novels, wrote this. The Amazon description calls it “an illustrated novella”. I haven’t spotted a copy of this at a bookstore, but I’d like to so I can see the art. Mignola, in an interview with Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy gives Christopher Golden full credit for the writing, so I suspect that this audiobook contains little of Mignola’s input.
The story did have a Hellboy (or even a Pan’s Labyrinth) feel to it. Dark, a bit sad, with something spiritually sinister about. It’s about an Italian orphanage in World War II, shortly after the Allies’ victory. Father Gaetano, recently assigned there, and a group of nuns struggle to connect with the grieving children. One of the kids finds puppets and a puppet stage in the basement, and Fr. Gaetano decides to put it to use. The kids become more interested as he, with their help, paints the puppets as Old Testament characters, then performs stories with them.
And then, the problem – the puppets come to life at night, and they take on the persona of the Bible characters they have been decorated to portray. Not knowing this, Father Gaetano plods along with his plans, and he wants to tell the story of Lucifer’s fall.
This wasn’t a bad novella, but it wasn’t stellar either. An interesting idea, and there are some great scenes, but even at novella length it feels a bit padded out. Still, it’s worth a listen, in my opinion. Or a look if you can find the hardcopy. Nick Podehl is a terrific narrator.
Posted by Scott D. Danielson
By Stephen King; Read by Kathy Bates
8 CDs – 9 hours – [ABRIDGED]
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Published: 2009 (reissue from 1996)
Themes: / Horror / Possession / Small town / Spirits / God / Writers /
I had high hopes for Stephen King’s Desperation (small band of people held captive in a demon-haunted mining town, breaking loose to battle possessed corpses, scorpions, and wolves—what’s not to like?), but alas, it failed to deliver on its intriguing premise. I’d give it an above average 3 ½ out of 5 stars. It contains some interesting ideas and is worth a read, but is not in the class of King’s best works.
Desperation contains some effective action sequences and the usual dollop of King-ian gross-out horror scenes, though there’s little actual frightening stuff in here. The book walks a hazy middle ground between a straight-up horror story and an examination of the nature of faith and the personage of God, and at least (for me) never really succeeds with either objective.
The basic problem I had with Desperation is that it contains no memorable or even particularly likeable personalities. The closest we get to a main character is John Edward Marinville, a pretty obvious stand-in for King himself (Johnny is a graying popular writer and member of the Baby Boomer generation whose career is starting to flag, and embarks on a cross-country motorcycle trip to attempt to find inspiration for his next novel. Which is apparently identical to how King arrived at the idea for Desperation). But after his introduction Johnny gets placed on the back burner as King juggles a bunch of other introductions, and we don’t learn what makes him tick until the book is nearly through.
I will give King some benefit of the doubt as the Penguin audio book I listened to for this review was abridged, and King’s original text is cruelly slashed. It’s apparent that some character development was left on the Penguin cutting room floor. The audio version is (somewhat) saved by narrator Kathy Bates of Misery fame, who does a fine job as the reader.
The rest of the characters are your standard cast of interchangables, save for David Carver, an 11-year-old boy who is able to communicate directly with God. King was certainly ambitious with Desperation: Like he did with The Stand, King inserts God directly into this book. He also spends some time exploring the nature of God through David’s struggle to reconcile a being that is supposedly all-knowing and all good, but is also cruel and demands borderline unbearable sacrifices of his worshipers here on earth. In the cruelest act of all, King writes, sometimes God lets His broken and suffering people live.
Opposing our band of heroes is the demon Tak, an evil spirit penned up in a 19th century mine—the China Pit—located on the outskirts of the small, secluded town of Desperation, Nevada. Tak is freed when a modern-day mining company accidentally unearths the ancient shaft. There’s an old legend in Desperation that a group of Chinese miners were buried alive in the mine after the shaft caved in, and the white miners outside sealed them in, alive, after deciding a rescue was too risky. In another weakness of the book, it’s not apparent whether the Chinese had stumbled onto Tak, or whether he was summoned by the curses of the dying, vengeful workers trapped inside.
Tak has the ability to inhabit the bodies of his victims, and he uses his hosts to embark on a murderous rampage that wipes out nearly the entire population of Desperation. Last of all Tak takes possession of Collie Entragian, the hulking town sheriff, and using his body and his cruiser rides up and down Highway 50 snaring unwitting hostages one by one.
Entragian/Tak locks his hostages in the Desperation town jail for use as human hosts (demon-possessed bodies wear out rather quickly and gruesomely, we learn). But spurred on by a vision from God, David manages to squirm through the bars of his cell and free the group. The rest of the book follows David as he accepts God’s command to defeat Tak. But first he has to overcome the group’s skepticism of God and his own shaken faith, which is cruelly tested again and again.
The middle of the book is a rather uninspired, drawn-out sequence of the group holed up in Desperation’s movie theatre. The book ends in a final showdown at the China Pit as the survivors attempt to seal the shaft. I wanted to see more of the inside of the mine, which seemed to have lots of potential as a set-piece, but the book ends rather abruptly.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a scene in which Johnny/King shouts out, “God forgive me, I hate critics!” before detonating a cache of explosives. I have to believe that King wrote the scene with a big grin on his face, and I certainly got a laugh out of it, even though I’m likely among the critics for which King has little use.
Posted by Brian Murphy
By Engle & Barnes; Performed by a full cast
2 CDs – ~2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Themes: / Horror / Fantasy / Possession / Toys / Young Adult
Some stories inspire great things. This story, being the second “Strange Matter” release I have listened to, has inspired me to write a computer program to generate any future reviews of the series. The reviewer just plugs in the story title, the main character, and the horror de jeur, and voila, out pops a review that starts like this: “Karen Sanders is a likeable little protagonist as the story opens. But even the first scene, in which she ‘loses’ one of her new toys in a tragic head-swapping surgery gone wrong, drags on past enjoyment…” and ends like this: “And so we come to a fiery, bloody conclusion that has left all sense and interesting character development so far behind, we can hardly remember what such noble pursuits feel like…” In between lie paragraphs of brilliant prose riddled with verbal howitzer shells like “pejorative” and “bamboozlement” to make you forget you’re reading something a computer typed.
It’s not that Toy Trouble is any worse than Plant People, it’s that the two are bad in the same ways. The general flow of action, the characters, and the gradual deterioration of the promising story into silly drivel are so frighteningly similar that the pair seem generated from the same generic outline.
I will say that the cast and audio effects people make a valiant attempt to bring Toy Trouble to life, but, like Karen Sanders’ doll, this story never had a chance. After the initial attempt to make our diminutive heroine seem something like an actual girl, the authors are happy to simply toss her around, smacking her against an evil spirit (a ghast, if you care) that possesses toys, her weirdo brother and her woefully underdeveloped friends in a series of increasingly improbable and illogical perils. No amount of voice acting or Foley wizardry can vivify that.
So save your time and money for something worthier of your attention. Like, say, a nice, short Computer-Generated Review®.
Posted by Kurt Dietz
Misery and Pity
By C. J. Henderson, read by Jeffery West, Bob Barr and C.J. Henderson
1 CD/ 55 minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Audio Realms
Themes: / Horror / Damnation / Possession / Vampires / Fantasy / Suicide / Charity
On the back cover of this audio book, C. J. Henderson is given the unblushing accolade “The Master of Modern Horror”, but I found the stories in this collection to be charming throwbacks. The stories often have classic arrangements, such as two old friends meeting at a restaurant to swap tales and compare their fates, or dark, Poe-like trips into hells of a character’s own making. They juxtapose the familiar with the impossible, the ominous with the disarmingly reassuring, and make for a tasty light lunch of dark imaginings.
The title story, read by Jeffrey West borrows, I assume, from Chinese myth, but in a way that doesn’t seem the least bit Chinese. Two old friends meet in an exotic Hong Kong Dim Sum where the diners bring their birds with them and let them roost in the rafters while they eat. A simple comment about one’s latest doings and destiny leads to a story of Chinese soul-vampires and a fiery confrontation with a monster that is the last of its kind. West’s narration is modern and seamless, almost invisible for its perfect attention to the story.
Bob Barr, on the other hand, narrates “Hope” with visible and sensational style. Somehow, he brings the narrative force of a tent revival and a fireside ghost story together, occasionally slowing the story to such a languid pace that you feel not only the weight of each syllable, but of their attack and decay as well. It’s very effective for a tale dealing with sin, damnation, and unutterable evil wearing the most insidious disguise.
But that’s where the professional narration ends, and where the quality of the material begins to dip, too. C.J. Henderson’s readings sound nerdy and occasionally belabored. And if he brings any authorial insight to the pieces, it is to point out that they are artificial and clattery. “The Buzzing of Flies” seems especially overwrought, as well as dull and predictable. “That’s the One” makes no real sense, being an illustration of life imitating a random thought about a specific work of art, but it has a loose freedom that seems to float where the previous story falls. Perhaps the finest of the final three is “Sacrifice”, which seems to be a wicked, wicked satire of the bizarre and pointless reactions we have to the injustices of the world.
All in all, Misery and Pity isn’t a bad way to kill almost an hour. The whole package has a likeable simplicity to it, and an unselfconscious lightness that makes it frivolously fun. Groundbreaking? Life-changing? Nah, but it is enjoyable.
Posted by Kurt Dietz