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(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Gather around all ye sinners, for I have found a new gospel, a new faith ...
...a FAITH IN THE FLESH.
Actually a collection of two novellas ("The First Law" and "From Bad Flesh"), this book by the British Fantasy Award-winning writer of WHITE features some of the finest dark fiction I've read in some time. I'm not talking dark fiction as in just "of the horror genre", but dark fiction as in there's really a sense of the doom and gloom within these pages. The kind of stuff a lot of horror tends to forget about these days.
"The First Law" starts the collection, and is a relentless series of disasters inflicted upon a group of men shipwrecked on a mysterious island. Already worn and sunbeaten after days adrift, they are slowly picked off, one by one, as they journey through the jungle growth and up a mountainside to get their bearings and look for help.
The action and events, while paced well, takes a back seat to the dread and confusion the characters are forced to deal with on their short journey. Lebbon does a good job of keeping it from oppressing the story, throwing in the odd bit of flora and fauna to engage the reader's curiosity as to what's really happening on the island. While we don't get the entire picture ourselves, by the end of the story we know this is definitely not a place to plan a tropical getaway.
"From Bad Flesh" is far and away the better of the two, as a diseased Englishman embarks on a pilgrimage into Greece to find the one man who can cure him, a man known simply as String. The story takes place following the Ruin, which is alluded to in WHITE. The date of this apocalypse is never specified, but it can just as easily be occuring tomorrow as thirty years from now. The only glimpse of technology we get are the strange Lordships, a kind of hovering aircraft making constant circuits on autopilot. Everything else has succumbed to the Ruin.
Lebbon paints us a grim future, one more visceral and brutal than the futurists of the cyberpunk genre. Man has more or less regressed to a primitive state, drawing tribal boundaries and falling to superstition (for example, as the Lordship flies overhead, a large crowd falls to their knees as if in worship or fear). We see brutality in the streets, both in the present of the action and in the tales the protagonist, Gabe, relates of the situation back at his home in England.
Together the stories offer one hell of a ride, and this volume's well worth the brain strain crunching the math to convert pounds to dollars and the added shipping.
I give FAITH IN THE FLESH four BookWyrms.
This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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