Thursday, June 08, 2017

DOOM on Mt. Ararat: A Review.

I've been meaning to read something by Christopher Golden for ages.  He cowrote books, movies, and a bunch of other stuff in the Ghosts of Albion world with Amber Benson, who is one of the top ten Most Adorable People. He wrote Joe Golem and the Drowning City, a novel that was illustrated by Mike Mignola, who is one of my absolute favorite illustrators.

So when I saw on Netgalley that he had a new book coming out--and that it was a horror novel set on a remote and snowbound mountain peak--I scooped up a copy of Ararat.  So exciting! Biblical! Snowy! Horror! And finally, Christopher Golden!

Guys, I might not like Christopher Golden so much--at least I don't care much for this book.  And it's so sad, because the premise is just right.  I've practically seen this movie before and I loved it (though I can't quite pin down its name).  Ararat is the mythical resting place of Noah's Ark, and when an earthquake uncovers ruins, there's a race for the site.

The winners are Meryam and Adam, partners and adventurers who write books and make movies about their world travels.  They assemble their team in a cave on the side of a ridiculously high mountain shrouded in snow as a blizzard sets in.  It's your classic enclosed space horror story--you've got your observers from the Turkish government, several guides involved in a family feud with various loyalties, a Catholic priest, a UN observer, a guy from the "National Science Foundation" with a shady past, archaeologists and grad students and a get the picture.

Honestly, I'm ready for this to be turned into an episode of Doctor Who; I think it could make a good episode, if it was rewritten a little bit. A lot of the problems are ground-level problems; it can be confusing to figure out what's going on, who's in which room.  I never got a clear idea of how this ark fit into the mountain--whether the walls and floor were all wood, or part stone and part wood that had rotted away (both are mentioned), how most of the ark related to the mouth of the cave (the wind is basically in every corner, so it seems pretty open?), or how the different "rooms" were split up.  There's a lot of running through spaces separated by plastic sheeting and I was pretty confused.

There was similar confusion with the motivations and characters.  The same person would one minute say they should create a rock slide and bury the mountain and the next minute freak out because he couldn't convince them NOT to destroy things.  Are things romantic between those two people?  Wait, I was under the impression that she was old enough to be his mother.  And is this guy you keep calling Ben occasionally the same guy you call Walker in every other place?  I literally had to flip back twice to confirm that Ben and Walker were the same person.

So you've got a big ol' jumble.  Then there's the meat of the horror, in which a demon was entombed on the ruins of Noah's Ark, and the overeager investigators released it to now haunt them all.  From the very first, everyone feels gross and tainted when they enter.  At many turns, plot points are driven by characters "just feeling" how awful something is, or almost vomiting, or whatever horrible creeping sensation.  But it didn't do a great job of showing things as creepy--we went straight to being told how their bodies felt creeped out.

There's a demon, a creature with horns, a skeleton in a tomb.  It doesn't really have any motive that we can tell--it's just evil and hey, now there are people here to terrorize.  There's no sense of a purpose or goal, either to the good guys or the bad guys.

The other great opportunity that was missed here is an "atheists in foxholes" story.  You've got a bunch of  rationality-loving scientists, a few people with radically different ideas of faith, people who have been searching for the ark forever, people who are looking for something to believe in. And this came up as a topic, but I never felt it as in any way pivotal to what was going on, either to the conflict or to my understanding of the evil.  Nobody even had a crisis of faith!  Where's the drunk priest from Stephen King's Salem's Lot? There is an exorcism that is pretty much as unspiritual as you can get.

Okay, I'm going to stop ranting now.  I'm sorry to rip into the book so hard, but I had such high hopes.  And the plot is pretty great--I actually think this would make a really good movie, with actors to give some thought to the emotional journeys of specific characters.  There's even a built-in documentary crew.  But the book? It just kind of sat there.  Big ol' nope.

*Oh, but my favorite bit--I don't know if this was actually what the author meant to imply, but he pretty much said that in his world, the National Science Foundation doesn't exist.  It's a smokescreen, see, for DARPA.  I mean, maybe what he meant is just that DARPA uses the actual, legit NSF (which sponsors some great shows on PBS, BTW) as a smokescreen, but he actually says pretty baldfacedly that NSF is "just" a smokescreen.  I'm offended by the book on behalf of the NSF, so there.
Correction: I just realized that I did NOT get this book from Netgalley.  I saw it on Netgalley, but wasn't able to get a copy; I eventually got it from the library.  Which is embarrassing because I absolutely would have quit reading it in the middle if I'd realized that.  But hey, at least you know my review copy opinions are honest!

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