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.
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!
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
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 doctor...you get the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!