When God is All Too Human

I was given the opportunity to read a review copy of Mark Alan Miller’s book, Clive Barker’s Next Testament. I assure you, the title is correct. You see, Mark Alan Miller took a concept he and Clive Barker had tossed around and made it first into graphic novel format, now in novel.

The core idea is very simple. What if the God of the Old Testament came back? Add to that, what if He were a sociopathic bully who found his creations vile? I was hooked on the core idea for the novel before I was even offered to review it for this site since it ran closely with some of my own theological questions. Namely, why is the God from the Old Testament is the bad cop to Jesus’ good cop in the New Testament? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking in a fiction book for religious answers, but I thought it would be interesting to see what Mark Alan Miller and Clive Barker had to say on the subject.

The story starts out with Julian, who is rich, entitled, and a total egotistical asshole, searching the desert for that important missing “something”. What he finds is a pyramid buried in the sand. Inside the pyramid is Wick, or God of the Old Testament. Wick is shaped like a man, but colored wildly all over his body, hence his name The Father of Colors. Julian takes Wick back to his home and teaches him about life in the modern age. Not to mention spends a good deal of time exploring the carnal pleasures available to a human who has the divine at his disposal. At first Wick is a very willing student, but he very quickly decides that he wants to see some of these people for himself. At this point he demands Julian throw a dinner party and invite his friends.

The dinner party guest is a true rogue’s gallery. The only people there who are not selfish, rich, and all around terrible people are Tristan and Elspeth. Tristan is Julian’s mostly-estranged son, and Elspeth is his fiancee. After meeting the attendees and spending some time humiliating them publicly, Wick decides he’s had enough. What started out as a weird social gathering quickly turns into a bloodbath. I have to admit that as bad as it sounds, the dinner party is pretty funny. The insults Wick delivers and they way they are taken by the recipients is pure gold. When the murder begins, nobody is worth saving, except Tristan and Elspeth.

Tristan and Elspeth escape the dinner party and go on the lam. Although they believe in Wick’s divinity, they don’t know what else to do. They want to be as far away as possible, and as quickly as possible. Terrified out of their minds, they begin a cross-country drive hoping to find shelter and safety on the East Coast. During their journey they see many indicators of Wick’s wrath, including but certainly not limited to every plane falling out of the sky, and the entire world communications network being wiped out. No phones. No internet. No radio. No TV. All gone in the blink of an eye.

Meanwhile, Wick searches for his new Rome, where he can rule and be worshiped and adored by his loving creations. Unfortunately, Wick finds neither new Rome nor loving creations. Everywhere he goes, people are obsessed with the restoration of their technology, as well as their own self-interest. The more Wick sees, the more he decides the world just isn’t worth his time. While speaking to a crowd, a young red-haired woman named Shauna distinguishes herself, setting Julian’s world tumbling even further. Julian wants to keep Wick to himself, but faces fierce competition from Shauna. She’s smarter, more adventurous, and not self-centered like Julian. Wick takes to her immediately.

As for the rest of the story, you’ll just have to read it yourself and see what happens. Truth be told, I’m not even done with the book, but I wanted to get some thoughts down while they were still fresh.

In the spirit of giving a totally honest review, I’m going to admit that there are parts of the book that I found deeply disturbing. It’s really awkward to read about God having a frivolous sexual relationship. I wasn’t sure what to think of that, as I’m not used to viewing God in that light.

Whereas I could understand that Wick would want to kill everyone at the dinner party, the seemingly endless massacres that followed didn’t make sense. I couldn’t see a justification for murder on such a scale. For instance, at one point, Wick gets pissed and just unmakes an entire crowd of people. GONE. Because they annoyed him with what I can only describe as their humanity.

The other issue I had was the fact that I believe God is omniscient, so therefore he wouldn’t have to search for new Rome, or wonder what the world was like. Then I remembered he had been trapped in the pyramid by the other two members of the Holy Trinity. Which bothered me as well, because I always thought the Trinity was in harmony.

Last night I was reading Clive Barker’s Next Testament and really digging into the text. I surmised from the introduction pieces at the front of the book that I was missing something crucial. Instead of seeing Next Testament for the satire it was, I was butting heads with the text over my own theological beliefs. Searching for some context, I looked for articles or reviews online. I found Ron McKenzie’s blog Thoughts and Scribbles and read his post NEXT TESTAMENT: The Gospel According to Mark Alan Miller. It tells the story of how Clive Barker and Mark Alan Miller came up with the whole idea, how it stemmed from a human canvas project Barker was working on. How he painted Miller’s body and when he stepped back and saw his work, he realized he had birthed Wick. From there, Barker and Miller came up with the story. Of course, this is in the introduction to the book as well. But additional insights from Miller accompanied this story. I was intrigued and kept reading. Then, it hit me.

I’ve always heard it said that we are created in God’s image. What happens if God is created in our image? If the divine more closely resembles humanity?

It was like a stick of dynamite went off between my ears.

I was bothered by the concept of Wick because he was too human. All of the restraint I expected from God was gone. Watching Wick not only ignore the 10 Commandments, but seemingly do his level best to go against them at every turn blew my mind. What I hate the most about the human race is what I hate about Wick. The wanton destruction of lives. The petty annoyances that turn into full-blown carnage. The hubris and the self-centered attitude. It upset me to see a God that embodies the worst traits of the human race, with seemingly none of the good.

Now, it’s like reading the book with totally new eyes. The revelation that what I hated most about Wick happens to be what I hate most about the human race, the arrogance, the wanton murder sprees, has allowed me to enjoy the book as the satire that it most certainly is.

If you have thick skin religiously, or are open to different interpretations, I highly suggest Clive Barker’s Next Testament. It’s at times humorous, sad, and difficult to read. It holds up a mirror to humanity that is all too uncomfortable sometimes. If you can withstand the tide of emotions, I highly recommend picking up Clive Barker’s Next Testament.

A New Genre

They say you learn something new everyday, and I believe it’s true. I also believe that people can’t let something just exist without categorizing it. Case in point: about a year ago, I body horrorwas in my local Barnes & Noble wandering aimlessly. I was hoping to stumble on a new book, new author, or new anything. At the time, their Fiction section began with a wall full of anthologies of different sorts. Among them was The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. I had no idea what “body horror was”, but I knew that Mammoth books generally don’t disappoint. I grabbed it (and let’s be honest, about 5 other books) and left. It sat on my shelf for awhile because I was extremely busy getting married and buying my first house with my new husband.

In any event, some months after we got married, I happened to be thumbing through the introduction to The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. I wasn’t sure what body horror was, or if I would like it. After all, I viscerally hate the Hostel series. I’m not typically the kind of person who enjoys watching people suffer in horrifyingly ingenious ways. SAW was interesting when it came out, predominately because it had a strong plot, and there was a good backstory to the villain. Hostel, on the other hand, is just plain upsetting. In any event, I set out to discover the meaning of body horror. The introduction to the Mammoth book assumes that you know what body horror is, which isn’t helpful at all. It did mention that  John Carpenter’s The Thing was actually based on a short story. Incidentally, George Langelaan’s “The Fly” was first a story as well. Both are in the anthology (horray!) However, in writing this post, I wanted to make sure that I found a decent definition of body horror, and I’ve come up with this (with help from tvtropes.org):

body horror: involving horribly slow mutations of the body, with special attention to the face, drastic loss of personality is a bonus

Before reading the book, body horror seemed a manageable genre for me. After having read it, I think that “manageable” is a tenuous description. I handle body horror just barely better than I handle the likes of Hostel and SAW. Let’s take a tour through some of the anthology, shall we?

“Transformation” – Mary Shelley : I was pleasantly surprised. I wholly expected to see Frankenstein represented, but was glad to see that another of her works was chosen. This one focuses on a dwarf, who tricks an arrogant man out of his most prized posession: his body. The dwarf convinces the man to switch bodies, and all hell breaks loose.

“The Tell-Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe : I’m not sure that I see how this fits into body horror. The old man’s eye doesn’t make any kind of transformation, and the narrator goes mad. Again, no physical transformation. In all honesty, I think this was just a push to include a Poe story.

“Herbert West – Reanimator” – H. P. Lovecraft : Holy mackeral what a story! A man learns how to piece dead bodies together and bring them back. (Yes, most likely a nod to Shelley.)

the thing“Who Goes There?” – John W. Campbell : Thankfully, Carpenter’s adaptation was very close. He left out some really interesting mind powers that The Thing possessed, but I think the movie was better that way. I liked not knowing what The Thing’s major plan was.

“The Fly” – George Langelaan : Much different than the movie with Jeff Goldblum. I can’t speak to the other adaptations, as I’ve never seen them. A chilling tale, but also a sad tale.

“The Other Side” – Ramsey Campbell : A teacher is taunted by visions of a clown under a streetlight. The teacher is driven mad by the homicidal tendencies of the clown. Great story! The images really stay with you long after you’ve finished the story.

“Almost Forever” – David Moody : Another shocker and tear-jerker. There is a treatment that can greatly extend your life, if it doesn’t kill you. The question is, would you be willing to take the risk? Or ask someone you love to risk their life for more time on this Earth? A devastating tale all around.

I don’t want to spoil the anthology for any prospective readers, but I will say that all of the stories were top-notch. Some varied on the theme (Stephen King’s gross-out Survivor Type was one of them) but all of the stories were worth reading. There was never a tale that was boring, and most nights, I woke my husband up with all of my squirming and whimpering. You see, I’m not the type of person that can take all this intense body trauma. It freaks me out more than anything, because I can’t disassociate it with myself. For instance, if someone mentions ripping off a fingernail, I can’t help but feel my fingers start to throb. Whether or not you’re a wuss like me, I highly recommend this book! Keep it, or give it as a gift. Just make sure you don’t let it pass you by!

What do you think of body horror? Can you stand it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Time for me to eat my words…

Cover of "The Hellbound Heart"

Cover of The Hellbound Heart

It’s not a secret – I’ve never been enthralled with the movie “Hellraiser“.  I don’t know what it is about it, though I have a sinking suspicion that I didn’t understand it at the time.  It came out when I was very little, and I think that overall it was just over my head.  In any event, I ran into a mention of The Hellbound Heart, the novella that started it all, somewhere online this past week.  My interest was sparked, and I headed over to my local Barnes & Noble to track down a paperback copy of the popular work by author Clive Barker.  At a whopping 164 pages, I really wasn’t expecting very much.  I got more than I was expecting!

I started reading the book as soon as I got home from work, and before I knew it, was already on page 35!  The story of Rory and his wife Julia, Rory’s brother Frank, and the love-lorn Kirsty Cotton was too exciting to put down.  I understand why Barker’s book was only 164 pages – he doesn’t bother wasting the reader’s time with extraneous character descriptions.  He lets their actions speak for themselves.  And by do they ever!  I found myself hating and pitying the characters in equal measure.

Clive Barker is truly a master storyteller.  As he draws the reader in, the pages begin to fly by with a life of their own.  Soon, the character’s struggles become as real as the book in the reader’s hands.  And what struggles!

Who is “the hellbound heart”?  I’m not sure even Barker can properly say.  Is it the adulterous lover?  The foolish husband?  The libertine?  The shy, lovestruck bystander?  The macabre Cenobites themselves?  I believe it is one and all, to a certain degree.  Each one of the characters experiences their own personal hell and filled with their own personal brand of misery.

Whether or not you are a fan of the Hellrasier movie franchise, I strongly urge you to pick up this quick and engaging read from Clive Barker.  I’ve never read a book that was more simultaneously sad and horrifying.  I promise, you won’t be disappointed!

Another super creepy anthology…

I really enjoyed The Dead That Walk because the stories felt very fresh and new.  I was accustomed to reading zombie literature and feeling terror and revulsion, but not really any sorrow or sympathy before.  The stories were also very unpredictable – which can be difficult to achieve in and of itself.

Each story is preceded by an author biography, which is one characteristic that I look for in anthologies of any kind.  I like to read about the author’s life and the circumstances that influenced their work.

Some standout stories –

  • “For the Good of All” by Yvonne Navarro.  This story was a thriller from beginning to end.  While I was reading it, I thought I understood what was going on, and I couldn’t figure out why the author had chosen to be so mysterious.  By the time I finished the last word I realized that I had no idea what was going on, and the ending absolutely floored me.  I read it again, in fact, to make sure that I hadn’t left out any details.
  • “The Crossing of Aldo Ray” by Weston Ochse.  The idea of roaming through a crowd of the undead has never been comforting, and I have often wondered how long I would last before I gave myself up for human and was eaten.  This story examines a man’s peril as he tries to cross international borders amidst the living dead.  The story makes for an interesting comparison of the struggles of illegal immigrants.
  • “Cool Air” by H.P. Lovecraft.  This story is loosely a zombie story, but is nevertheless fantastic.  It centers around an eccentric shut-in and his unlikely friendship with another man who is renting in the same boardinghouse.  If you like Lovecraft – you know what I mean.  If you haven’t read his stories before – you need to !
  • “The Silent Majority” by Stephen Woodward.  I couldn’t stop laughing during this story.  Richard Nixon comes back from the dead and has some very interesting advice for the new President of the United States during a new period of war.
  • “The Long Dead Day” by Joe R. Lansdale.  This story is very short and very powerful.  A father must make a decision regarding a newly infected family member.  He must also decide what to do with himself and the surviving family after his decision.  [I’m sorry I can’t give a more complete description of this story.  Lansdale is very blunt and straightforward and the effect is something like receiving a blow from a red-hot icepick into the stomach.  I don’t want to ruin that for any potential readers.]
  • “Tell Me Like You Done Before” by Scott Edelman.  Phenomenal.  A re-telling of the Steinbeck classic, Of Mice and Men, only with a few catches.  George and Lenny are plagued by zombies and are forced to go from house to house in order to escape them.  In this particular instance, what you kill pursues you until it kills you.  Considering it’s a retelling of a novel, it’s a short story but still manages to include the major events from the book.
  • “Home Delivery” by Stephen King.  I have always been a fan of the great Stephen King.  I think what I like most about this story is his range of characters.  King’s leading lady starts out sheepish, abused, and insecure.  Through the tribulations of the rising of the hungry dead she finds strength in herself and changes her life forever.  It’s an inspirational story [of a sort] for anyone who has lost someone and isn’t sure what to do with themselves after.  The ending of it is both sad and hopeful.

If you are looking for a varied approach to zombies I strongly suggest this book.