Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp

Pub date: September 25, 2012.

Author website.

Something has happened in Spokane. The military has evacuated the city and locked it down. Even so, disturbing rumors and images seep out, finding their way onto the Internet, spreading curiosity, skepticism, and panic. For what they show is-or should be-impossible: strange creatures that cannot exist, sudden disappearances that violate the laws of physics, human bodies fused with inanimate objects, trapped yet still half alive. . . . 

Dean Walker, an aspiring photographer, sneaks into the quarantined city in search of fame. What he finds will change him in unimaginable ways. Hooking up with a group of outcasts led by a beautiful young woman named Taylor, Dean embarks on a journey into the heart of a mystery whose philosophical implications are as terrifying as its physical manifestations. Even as he falls in love with Taylor-a woman as damaged and seductive as the city itself-his already tenuous hold on reality starts to come loose. Or perhaps it is Spokane's grip on the world that is coming undone.  

Now, caught up in a web of interlacing secrets and betrayals, Dean, Taylor, and their friends must make their way through this ever-shifting maze of a city, a city that is actively hunting them down, herding them toward a shocking destiny.  (

BAD GLASS is something different.  In a good way.  It's part horror, part apocalyptic, part science fiction and fantasy, hitting on every thread that each of those genres can unwind.  I had moments reading this book that actually made my stomach churn.  Of course I was eating lunch at the time and vomiting all over the lunch room table at a place I've worked at less than a week would certainly leave an impression.  Not a good one.  I really like where I work so I breathed through it.

In terms of character I felt it was a little thin.  I didn't really have any motivation to care about any of the characters and when things really started to happen I felt more like I was watching the news than I was invested in reading a novel.  The emphasis of the story was on Spokane.  It was the antagonist here, as the blurb says, hunting them.  Literally.  I LOVED Spokane and I talk about it as if it were a fleshy type of character.  It was the most dynamic thing here, morphing itself to engulf the more static characters.

Taylor was your typical hard ass, stand-offish girl that leads by example.  Not unlikable but she wasn't anything I warmed to.  Then her character took a major shift towards the end and I don't think it quite fit.  It was too out of character and felt more like a contrivance to catapult the story forward than anything else.  I didn't mind per se because I was still interested in the story but it was a point of contention.  I'm not a fan of characters deviating for the sake of plot.

Amanda is one character one day and then goes off the deep end the next without much segue, throwing another shock factor into the spokes of the plot.  Charlie was endearing, being the youngest of the group.  He was the techie, helping the rest of the gang keep in contact with the outside world all the while continuously searching for his parents whom he KNOWS are still in town.  Floyd is hung up on the death of his brother, Mac's a clingy dick from the beginning and Dean himself wants to believe he dissolves into the town with the rest of them but I didn't buy it.  He's there for less than a week, put through all kinds of shit for the sake of his art but won't simply walk away when things get really bad (and everything will gladly get out of his way to walk and once he gets out of Spokane all the craziness will stop but nooooooooo).  He sacrifices his life for Taylor, whom he's known A WEEK but will not return the affection nor even much of a hint that it's reciprocal, because he just can't leave her.  No.  I don't buy that either.

I don't buy it as much as I don't buy Taylor's character shift.  Dean's very presence beyond the first few days felt forced, his reasons for staying insubstantial at best.  Eventually it stopped being about his photography and started being about Taylor, again a stand-offish girl that would barely look at him.  I'm going to keep driving right past that tag sale and move on to the next one.

Spokane on the other hand was a living, breathing character consuming all the others, eventually literally.  The things that happen within the city, whether they just happen to the surroundings or to the people themselves, were so incredibly vivid that I could almost feel all of the panic and worry and wonder at what was going on.  From the weird bodily mutations to nature bucking it's own trend, I believed it all.  It was the most vivid part of the story.  If it weren't such an integral part, if the story focused more on the characters than on the surroundings, I would have lost interest pretty quickly.  But I kept reading for Spokane.  I wanted to see what the hell was going on with it.

I almost expected the ending to crap out.  I don't know why but I was anticipating the whole thing ending up being a dream.  It was alluded to.  I'll spoil it for you: it's not.  Thank god.  I would have been so incredibly pissed off I don't know what I would have done.  You get an answer but it leaves a lot of whys hanging out there and you still don't REALLY know what's going on by the time the story ends.  You have an idea and I think it's enough to satisfy the curiosity that the plot brews but there's definitely room for more.

BAD GLASS is, atmospherically, a great blend of horror and apocalyptic, the latter really just on the edge of the world about to go to hell in a Pinto.  There are some truly terrifying moments and the way Gropp wrote all of the changes it really plays with your mind and you won't know what to think about everything that's happening.  You'll start to second-guess things and you'll be trying to figure it out right from the moment Dean gets into the city and starts seeing these things first hand.  It's light on character development but the city itself is such a huge personality in the book that it'll just overwhelm everything else.  Really I don't think there's room for much else in terms of the other characters.  And I'm okay with that.

Ban Factor: High - Swearing, m/m sex, drug use and the world going to hell.  Not a good combination for the banners.
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