Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It isn't your car that is out to get you; it is something much bigger...

kw: book reviews, horror, occult, automobiles, highways

I read very little Fear Fiction. For some reason, I was sufficiently intrigued by the cover blurb to give Destinations Unknown by Gary A. Braunbeck a try. He is certainly a compelling writer; I stayed up a bit too late to finish the first story of the three in the book.

In an essay a decade back or so, Orson Scott Card deconstructs Fear Fiction into three genres, based on the time element. Dread is fear of what might happen, a foreboding. Card happens to be master of the unresolved Dread story. Terror is fear incited by awful events witnessed, or suffered by, the story viewpoint. Horror is remembered terror; it is already over, but you can't get over it. This is used to great effect by consecutive terror-horror-(dread-)terror-horror cyclic "slasher" stories. Braunbeck's writing follows the dread-terror-horror sequence, but of these three stories two end with a cycle-breaking resolution.

The first story, "The Ballad of Road Mama and Daddy Bliss", is by far the best and the best-written. It explores the idea, one sure to twig off droves of conspiracy theorists, that auto "accidents" are really "occurrences", somehow proctored by a godlike entity, The Road, assisted by Road People, including the title characters. It's incredibly well done, and introduces a nearly-believable parallel world for us to contemplate.

The other two stories seem to me to be fillers, to get the book up beyond 200 pages ("Ballad" takes 170). The first, "Congestion", puts the reader under the skin of a fat dude with heart troubles trying to drive himself to the emergency room through a traffic jam. The second, "Merge Right", is a grief fantasy, that goes right about where you'd expect a grief story to go if the depths of grief were physically realized.

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