Saturday, November 18, 2006
Book: "Even I, Lucas, have heard the legend of the Fish-Man. And I, Lucas, have read the book too."
Dark Horse, one of the longest running and most successful independent comic book publishers in the history of the medium, is no stranger to pulp tinged horror. For example, the Kirby-by-way-of-Lovecraft Hellboy comes out with Dark Horse's distinctive chess piece knight logo on the cover. The more frantic and over-the-top Goon is also a Dark Horse publication. Dark Horse also puts out a wide range of horror-related film adaptations. They've cranked out endless Aliens and Predator books. They even produced two issues of a Dr. Giggles book, believe it or not.
Dark Horse also does business in books of the non-comic variety, under the Dark Horse Press imprint. Here to, horror and licensed work is their bread and butter. Novels based on Aliens, for example, appear on the DHP backlist.
Recently, Universal Studios licensed their iconic stable of monsters to DHP. It is, in many ways a perfect fit. Novels based on the films Dracula, Wolf Man, Frankenstein (and his bride), and The Mummy are all in the works or already waiting for you on the bookshelves of you preferred vendor of fine readables.
The book that first caught my attention was DHP's Creature from the Black Lagoon tie-in: Paul Di Filippo's Time's Black Lagoon. Not being the biggest sci-fi fan, I don't recognize the names of many sci-fi authors, but Di Filippo's is one of the handful of guys whose work I'm familiar with. I read his Steampunk Trilogy with great pleasure, enjoy the reckless way Di Filippo blended high and low culture references, as well as the reckless, but ultimately respectful, way in which treated the various genres his works borrowed from. To me, his involvement in this venture was reason enough to take notice.
Time's Black Lagoon, like the Di Filippo's steampunk work, is a carefree mash-up of 50's horror, contemporary speculative fiction, and pulp action novel. Set mainly in the humid, post-climate change New England of 2015, the novel focuses on the adventures of Brice Chalefant, a marine biologist who, as the novel opens, has pretty much flushed his promising scholarly career down the toilet. At the end of a well-attended lecture on the impact of global warming on the environment, Brice went off on a tangent about how humans would be better equipped to handle the water-logged future if their genetics where altered to make them amphibious. This suggestion is soundly mocked and Brice goes from rising star to "the Merman Guy" overnight. However, not everybody at his university thinks he's nuts. The well-loved but eccentric Professor Hasselrude thinks Brice's fish-man idea is not only reasonable, he's seen it before. Turns out that Hasselrude was the nephew of the late Dr. Barton, the man who attempted to surgically alter the creature of permanent land-bound existence in the 1956 The Creature Walks Among Us. Hasselrude hips Brice to the history of the Gill-Man, suppressed and complete forgotten by 2015. The Gill-Man, they agree, would be the perfect template for Brice's theories. Unfortunately, the long-dead Gill-Man from the 1950s seems to have been the last member of Devonian species. It's another dead end for Brice until a friend of his, a DoD funded physicist working out of the University of Georgia, shows him what he's been working on: a time machine made out of an iPod. Suddenly, the Devonian is accessible and Brice and his significant bother, pro-outdoor guide Cody, mount an expedition to the Devonian. What they find completely rewrites the backstory of Creature of the Black Lagoon and opens up an entirely new mythology for the most neglected of Universal's famous monsters.
Like good pulp entertainment, Time's Black Lagoon aims to entertain. And on that level, it delivers. I suspect hardcore sci-fi fanboys will be disappointed in the lack of detail given such issues as time travel, but Di Filippo is less interested in science as he is in how science was presented in the wonderful sci-fi/horror flicks of the '50s. Despite the updated info about quantum physics and genetic manipulation and climate change, TBL is an intentional throwback to the '50s films that inspired it. Even the dialogue resembles that weird everything-is-a-speech dialogue that was a hallmark of classic sci-fi/horror. For example, on telling Cody he wants to study the Gill-Man, she tells Brice:
"Brice, I understand why you have to pursue this until you can't take it any further. It represents the possible culmination of everything you've been striving for. But all I ask is that you don't let it become an obsession, as it for Barton and the others. This creature and the knowledge it represents has ruined too many lives."
Of course it has sweetie; of course it has.
TBL never makes a bid to be anything other than a good time. It is unlikely that, even within Di Filippo's backlist, it will be considered a must read. But, for fans of pulpy fun and geeks of the Gill-Man franchise, it is well worth the admission price (about $7.00).