Review Summer — Week 5

This week: my reviews of John McIlveen’s Hannahwhere and I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas.

Title: Hannahwhere
Author: John McIlveen
Publisher: Crossroad Press
Website: http://www.crossroadpress.com

I’m building a library of books with which to smack people who utter certain trite and erroneous complaints. For instance, anybody spouting the whole “girls can’t do horror” gets one upside the head with something by Monica O’Rourke. And, as of this moment, Hannahwhere will be my go-to swatter for anybody who thinks guys can’t write believable female characters.

Because, dang. All the major characters in it are female, not only women but young girls, and they are believable, sympathetic, and simultaneously vulnerable and empowered and strong. Yes, terrible things happen, traumatic and painful victimizing things, but the focus isn’t on that; the focus is on recovery and refusing to be defined by tragedy, of love and unconquerable spirit.

Hannah and Anna, twins, are only seven years old the night their mother’s boyfriend snaps. They try to hide, but he drags one of them away. Skip ahead a couple of years and a garbage man finds a semi-catatonic little girl behind a dumpster. No one knows where she’s been all this time, or what happened to her sister.

For social worker Debbie, every case is important, but something about this one resonates on a deeper than personal level. She also soon realizes this is no ordinary little girl, and the place she goes to escape is far more than just some mental refuge state of mind. But, as she works to unravel the mystery, Debbie also has to confront the suppressed demons of her own past.

Wonderfully written, rich and powerful, emotionally affecting on several levels, with descriptions so vivid they jump off the page – in both beautiful and unspeakable ways – this really is an amazing story. Difficult to read in places; I think the phrase ‘trigger warning’ might be very applicable here, since some horrific abuse is presented with merciless clarity. Yet also, for all of that, it rings with innocence, beauty, and hope.

A look at the author’s bio mentions he’s the father of five daughters, which both helps to explain the phenomenal work in this book … and bumps up the respect-o-meter several more notches, because having to imagine these kinds of scenarios would be soul-wrenching enough for anyone. Hats off, sir. Hats definitely off.

**

Title: I Am Providence
Author: Nick Mamatas
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Website: http://www.nightshadebooks.com

Gamers of a certain age may remember Sharyn McCrumb’s delightful Bimbos of the Death Sun, in which a hapless newbie at a con lands smack in the middle of a murder mystery, dealing with Trekkies, D&D players, filking, costume contests, and so on.

I anticipated this book to be in a similar vein, taking on the Loveraftian fandom at the fictional Summer Tentacular. It certainly starts out that way – hilarious, with snort-laughs, inside jokes, and varying-degree-of-veiled references galore – and there are even some references to a book called Madness of the Death Sun, which can’t be coincidence.

Geeks of any age may also know the story of how Sir Patrick Stewart didn’t want to see Galaxy Quest, and Jonathan Frakes had to convince him to go, and then he realized it was all done with such fond affection and not a mean-spirited bone in its body.

Ummmm yeah, that doesn’t feel like so much the case here. This book’s got a bite to it, it’s got acid and venom. I wouldn’t say it drips with contempt; more like sprays it around like a kid’s water-willie lawn sprinkler toy. Which is not altogether a bad thing, though those who might benefit most from the message aren’t likely to receive it.

So, what’s the plot? Well, as with Bimbos, it’s a murder mystery, as an infamous (but not popular) well-known (if not well-liked) Big Name in the scene ends up dead. Convention newcomer Colleen Danzig tries to find out who did it and why, as well as how come so few of her fellow attendees seem to care.

Where this book veers far from Bimbos is in the post-mortem scenes from the victim’s POV, giving further insights into fandom grudges, internet stalkers, politics, scandals, racism, sexism, and a lot of the underside ugliness very prevalent among Lovecraftians.

Basically, if you are one and read this, you’ll recognize a lot, in a truth-hurts kind of way. And if you’re not one and read this, you might decide not to get involved, no matter how pop-culture Cthulhu’s become, because it shines some harsh lights onto some real horrors.

Is it a spite book? Maybe. Is it well-written? Mostly; there are some bog-down spots and the ending might leave a bit to be desired. Is it entertaining? Oh, yes. Will it annoy people? I won’t at all be surprised.

**

Coming up next week:  Richard Chizmar’s Long December, and the Sirens anthology.

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