Those who know del Toro’s film library well will not get far in the book before realizing that the vampires he has written about have been brought to the screen before they showed up at the news stand. His “Blade II” with a script by David Goyer (The Dark Knight) featured hellish, non-human vampire creatures that achieved both “cool” and “scary”.
The writers make no attempt to disguise them, they are the same creatures that del Toro envisioned and brought to life on screen. He explained why in an e-mail with TheOneRing.net.
“The thing with ‘The Strain’ is I took all the ideas that I posited on ‘Blade II’ but wouldn’t fit Goyer’s storyline (when I came on board, the reapers were shape-shifters a la Carpenter’s ‘The Thing,’ they transformed into multiple creatures) – all these ideas were really annotations on vampire biology I had made over the years: How long does it take to change? What organs are affected? How? What’s the viral / organic way? Then I came up with a mythology / history / cosmology and ultimately a reinvention of the myth which will be expanded novel-by-novel until the trilogy is complete.”
The first installment gives us a visceral introduction to these sewer vermin who are scary because of their single-minded hunger, power and their alien-like state. Here the common vampire claws dirt graves with bloody hands for refuge and lives in sewers and cares for little beyond their thirst for blood. But the writers skillfully ground the story in settings and situations that feel more reality-based then and build toward the supernatural elements of the story.
Hogan, a best-selling author who went from video store clerk to writer with the publication of his first book, is a no-nonsense story-teller that collaborated with del Toro, working out much of the book a few years ago.
“I wrote all these ideas more than 3 or 4 years ago and we wrote awhile ago – for anyone concerned about that eternal question: “How does he manage his time?” I knew I needed a partner with a matter-of-fact writing style and I found Chuck. We co-wrote the whole thing, he came up with some new characters and ideas and wrote some pretty perverse stuff and I ended up writing some matter-of-fact stuff. Funny how things work!”
The novel does work, starting with a flight landing at JFK airport in New York City that goes completely dead once its on the tarmac. The plane is sealed shut and communication is impossible leaving those on the ground guessing about terrorism or illness. Protagonist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather is called in from the Centers for Disease Control to figure out what suddenly struck down the passengers and crew and mechanics on the aircraft.
It is “Eph” that gives the reader much of the information that del Toro wants to convey as he peels away at the mystery of the plane and the part it plays in the bigger picture of vampires in New York City. Sections of the book read like a sharp novelization of a “CSI” episode where the process of unraveling mysteries takes center stage.
But the horror elements are flowing through the narrative as well, including with the fates of the victims of that mystery airplane and even its possible survivors. Also in the city is prowling the aged, Van Helsing-type, Professor Abraham Setrakian who is old enough in his Spanish Harlem pawn shop, to be ignored, even if he understands better than anybody what is going on.
The writers keep the pace quick but not too frantic to allow the reader to relish being in the middle of a horror story that while intense on its geographic level threatens humanity in the background on an epic scale. As entertaining and interesting as the book is, it entices readers to consider the larger implications of the plot and wonder where the writers will choose to take us in subsequent books.
Fans of the director will not want to miss this fresh take on the undead that will demand a little elbow room at local bookstores. Those worried about “The Hobbit,” can lay those concerns aside and enjoy this creative stretching as the director makes his last promotional tour before settling in and rolling up his sleeves on latest Middle-earth film.
Fans of horror will lap this up and be watching their calendar for the next release. In a vampire market that seemed already overfull, the skill and passion of Hogan and del Toro in weaving a tale, building a mythology and pulling no punches when it comes to creatures who drink human blood to live, ‘The Strain’ demands attention and it demands that, yet again, we put away our old ideas and make room for a fresh take on the primordial monster.
Lacking in romance but stuffed full of love, those put off by vivid violence should not crack the cover. Readers who wade into the gore will emerge having discovered the contrasts of good and evil vividly portrayed in the great mythic traditions and will find themselves with a thirst for more.
Click here to see Guillermo del Toro talk about ‘The Strain’.