Monday, October 5, 2015

Don't poke the Deep Ones

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory invites a lot of comparisons. Given the plot is basically a Lovecraft story with some Rime of the Ancient Mariner thrown in for flavor, this isn't overly surprising. However, what this mostly comes across as is Cabaret as directed by Charles Band during his Lovecraft movie making phase. Because, seriously, there are some hard tonal shifts depending on which character we're following around at any given point in time.

So, we start the book with the arrival of Harrison Harrison the 5th (Harrison Squared x 5) and his widowed mother in Dunnsmouth, Massachusetts, where she has intentions of tracking down giant squid in the Atlantic. Dunnsmouth is at the uvula of a crocodile shaped bay, has no cell phone reception, no cable TV, and no internet service. Communication is only available via land line, making is hard for adolescent Harrison to get by.

Dunnsmouth High School is a bit odd, since it's one of the oldest buildings in town. Practical Skills class, which is the first Harrison attends, involves making fishing nets. Math covers non-Euclidian geometry. History covers great gales of Massachusetts and how to be a Tyrant.

Mom, in the meantime, goes missing after dropping a buoy in the bay. We catch up with her dealing with the Scrimshander, who paints people's souls into his scrimshaw. (Scrimshaw being using whale bones and cartilage as a canvas for art.) That he's also a fish man helping his mother, The Toad Mother, find vessels to host Urgaleth's present to Earth when the Stars are Right in the near future isn't helping.

This is what I mean by tonal changes. The parts involving Harrison are quite tongue in cheek. The parts involving the Scrimshander are universally terrifying. Nothing like a giant fish man attacking with knives to pick up the tension.

Anyway, The students at Dunnsmouth attend Voluntary before school. Where they chant to Urgaleth and what ever gods belong to the Deep Ones. As such, there's a resistance group known as the Involuntaries who work to break up the cult. The core group includes a talking doll named Isabelle. The leader, however, is Harrison's sort of girlfriend Lydia, who's parents also met the Scrimshander. Lydia's Uncle owns the Albatross, the boat that rammed the lobster boat that Harrison's mother's ship.

Harrison also picks up help from the strange explorer who seems to live in the library, as well as Lub, a Deep One adolescent obsessed with comic books. Lub is a bit odd anyway, since he idolized Aquaman. Partway through, Lub discovers Manga and starts giving everyone the -san honorific.

For the most part, it works. The humor in the narrative provides a nice counterpoint to the horror going on outside the main narrative. Unlike Lovecraft, the horror is much more personal than existential. The human villains chew the scenery quite well, while the Deep Ones (while also somewhat amusing), are less villains and more creatures following their calling.

This book will not be liked by Lovecraft purists, but for those of you who enjoyed such schlock as Re-Animator and From Beyond, it will provide a good escape.