Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Desert: intense military horror!

The Desert by Bryon Morrigan
Dark Hart Press $16.25 (through powell’s here in Portland)
278 pages

This is a great first novel written by a newcomer that I read over a month ago and kept forgetting to post a review of. Set in a dual time line of the early days of the latest U.S. invasion of Iraq and a more current atmosphere of the conflict. The desert is only the second horror novel I’ve read to address the current war. The only other one I know of is John Shirley’s underrated HellBlazer tie-in Warlord.

I am not sure what the author did when he was military intelligence but his bio says that was his job. The experience shines on every page and gives the author a credibility important to the overall impact of the book.

A story of ghosts and demons haunting the arena of conflict reminded me of the Korean film R Point however the desert is better plotted and executed. The scares are piled on like a thick gravy on mashed potatoes. There is a lot here for horror junkies to get there fix on. Zombies, ghouls,ghosts all make themselves apart of the show in solid way that is never gratuitous. The setting sets this novel apart and it is highly recommended.

Is it perfect? It’s a pretty amazing book that will establish Morrigan as an author on the rise. As a reader I only found two things to nitpick.

A lot of the reviews have compared this book to Aliens as a military drama. I wish I had not read that blurb on the back of the book because it highlighted for me a major difference and the only weakness in the Desert. The desert focuses on three characters through the majority of the action. In Aliens Cameron did an excellent job of setting up brief but memorable characterizations so when the aliens started picking off people we felt each one. Each death brought a strong impact.

Morrigan did a great job with the characters but this book needed a few more characters to flesh it out. Certainly as a writer I understand how hard it is to juggle so many characters but it’s an essential element of the military drama. The only other minor criticism I have was the over use of exposition. The characters did a lot of explaining in long dialogues.

That being said I look forward to more work from this author. The action was intense, the tension solid and it played amazingly well as movie in my head.

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