I don’t get much time to read fiction these days. Between all my hobbies, a full time job, non-fiction material I need to pour over and learn along with the obligations of preparing for my first book to get published as well as writing the sequel to said first book, I can barely find time to think, let alone read something just for fun.
However, I couldn’t exactly ignore Gary Whitta’s Abomination. From a purely professional point of view, reading Abomination was as much educating myself as gathering intelligence. Abomination is the biggest name in ScienceFiction/Fantasy being published by Inkshares, the publisher of my book The Life Engineered. I pre-ordered Abomination so I could see how Inkshares handles their product. The cover, printing, paper, layout. I wanted to see how a book launch happened from the reader’s point of view. I also wanted to read Abomination to know what an Inkshares book was like after going through editing. That being said, Abomination’s description made it sound like it was right up my alley. I love me some strange horror and while Fantasy is often less my jam than Science Fiction, the cover copy spoke to me.
Whitta is best known as a screenwriter. Not just award winning but also a damn good one. He wrote The Book of Eli which is credit enough in my book to give him a chance (looking forward to Rogue One). For better or for worst, the author’s background is evident in the book. Abomination is a tight read with very little wasted space. It’s a book written for an audience with the attention span of a movie goer. This is a surprisingly welcome change from some of the more masturbatory writing a lot of authors, myself included, tend to indulge in. Everything has a meaning, every paragraph a purpose. This isn’t the kind of book where you feel comfortable skipping a flowery sentence here and there.
Pacing aside, the beats and tropes of Abomination also echo those of a movie treatment. There are several revelations that come as no surprise because they seem to be part of the standard Hollywood formula. Whitta manages to use this in his favour though as what appear to be clichés at times only serve to lull the reader into thinking he knows what to expect. The handful of surprises that matter, those that are the foundation for the story shine through because they are cleverly hidden in plot points that are predictable and in hindsight didn’t need to be mysterious in the first place. The characters also have an initial simplicity to them that may at first feel naive. We’re told in no uncertain terms who the good guys are and there is little doubt of their nobility and ethical purity. The board is set like in chess, with very well defined and color-coded sides. Again however, this is deception as well as economy of words. Revelations give depth to the characters after the facts.
The strange thing about Abomination is that every weakness feels like a strength for the story and vice versa. The best example I can give is how the book feels like a prequel or prologue. Don’t expect a conclusion that satisfies your hunger. All important plot points are handled to their conclusion but the characters remain and the thirst to know what happens next, because this cannot be the end, is overwhelming. This issue becomes obvious halfway through the book when you realize that there aren’t enough pages left to tell everything that needs to be told.
Analysis aside, I enjoyed the book greatly. Whitta clearly understands storytelling and obviously has a universe he wants to tell us about. This appetizer is an excellent tease as to what we can expect from him in the future and I hope to see a sequel to Abomination in the near future.
Now, for some spoilers.
If you haven’t read the book, etc, etc. If I have to tell you what spoilers are, you’re probably not my target audience. Go buy the book here, read it and then come back for this last part.
There are two complaints and one great moment that I want to highlight before signing off.
Perhaps I’m raw from the editing process of The Life Engineered and thus overly aware of such details, but I felt that Indra/Beatrice and Wulfric bond entirely too quickly. This is foreshadowed sufficiently that it’s not as jarring as it could have been but it might be one of the negative symptoms of Whitta’s background as a screenwriter. In a film we expect alliances to be formed quickly and betrayals to happen in the blink of an eye, but I wanted more out of the relationship between these two characters beyond immediate affection and understanding. This is also the basis for my second complaint; Edgar deserved to be a better villain or a deeper antagonist. I was glad for his survival at the end because I wanted more out of him and I’m hoping I’ll get it in a later book. I wanted more ambiguity and less moustache twirling. Aethelred is more of a plot device and yet his spiral towards evil has more meat and reason than Edgar and that’s a shame as I saw potential for a more complicated relationship between villain and hero, especially where Beatrice is concerned.
Finally, there is one scene that resonated with me. I’m a huge fan of Clive Barker. Especially his ability to mix beauty and horror. To describe the terrifying in a way that transcends terror into art into a marriage of the weird and wonderful. There is a cathartic moment at the end of Abomination, when Beatrice first sees the Beast in daylight and discovers that it is a beautiful monster in it’s own way that was reminiscent of this. It’s an important moment for the character but also for the story. It opens the door to interesting interpretations.
These are minor complaints of a nitpicking pedant. Abomination is a good book, especially considering it is Gary Whitta’s first novel. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of horror and fantasy alike. Some have compared it to Lovecraft but I felt it was closer to early Clive Barker. What do you think?