Monday, November 2, 2009
The worst day of David Spires life started with a phone call from daycare: His stepson had attacked another boy and then been killed. That’s bad enough, but this is only the start of the bad news, as the world is engulfed in brutal acts of violence. A chemical/biological agent has been released which causes people to revert to their primitive “Neanderthal” nature, and their instinct is to kill any of the few who are resistant to the change. David has to flee Los Angeles with his wife, daughter, and a motley crew of fellow survivors, to try to find safe harbor from the primitives.
There is an additional complication: It seems ancient man worshipped a demonic creature named Hanbi. With the extinction of the Neanderthals, Hanbi faded from the collective conscience, but with the return of them, in greater numbers than ever before, not only has the worship of Hanbi made a comeback, it has caused a physical reappearance of the demon. Not only will David and his people have to struggle for survival against the primitives, they must find a way to destroy a supernatural creature from the past – one with the power to raise the dead.
J.F. Gonzalez has written good books before (Survivor, Shapeshifter, the wonderful B-movie Clickers and Clickers II), but he takes his writing to new heights here. Primitive is the most compulsorily readable thing he’s done, at least that I’ve read. His characters are written so as to be real to the reader, and you feel the tenseness as they struggle to survive, and the angst that goes with hard moral choices they must make.
Post-apocalyptic fiction has been a staple of the horror genre for a long time. Stephen King’s The Stand is rightly considered a classic, and many people count Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song among their favorites. Does Primitive rate a place with these immortal books? Yes, with a small caveat.
The other books mentioned were written at a time when horror novels were often of epic length (one version of The Stand is over 1100 pages long). Today’s market is different, and the upper limit for novels has become 300 pages, which is the length of Primitive, give or take a couple of pages. As good as it is, there are tantalizing subplot possibilities that are not explored. There is some mystery about the military officer Wesley, the question of how some people are still reverting months after the original epidemic, and a lot of information about the cause of the catastrophe and just why some people are immune. I have no inside knowledge as to whether Gonzalez would have liked to have written a longer version of Primitive, but I feel there could have been a lot more to it if he had chosen to do so, and I would have like to have read it.
This criticism shouldn’t be construed as taking anything away from the book that was published. Primitive is a compelling book, and shows a continuing progression of Gonzalez’ talents. If quality still matters in the genre, it should be very successful, and I would recommend you give it a try. Primitive is available from Delirium Books.