The Strain of reading Guillermo Del Toro

Let me begin by saying I love Guillermo Del Toro. The Devil’s Backbone is one of my favorite movies, and we have all experienced the quiet, sad joy of Pan’s Labyrinth. His vision is revolutionary, eliciting a response in senses most of us have forgotten we possess; his work finds those dark secret places inside of us and exposes them to the light.

That being said, it’s surprising that Mr. Del Toro’s new book “The Strain” is such a disappointment. Co-written with Chuck Hogan (author of The Killing Moon and Prince of Thieves), The Strain tells of a mysterious virus that turns humans into vampires. It’s had mixed reviews since its release in June 2009. Here is the description from Amazon.com:
”    They have always been here. Vampires. In secret and in darkness. Waiting. Now their time has come.

In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country.

In two months–the world.

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing . . .

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city–a city that includes his wife and son–before it is too late.”

Honestly, this book was one of the most painfully boring things I have ever read.  Dont get mislead by the prelude, which is an awesome little tale of a boy and his grandmother, who tells him fairy tales. After that, I was excited to read, which is made the rest of the book so devastatingly awful.
The first chapter alone took all my willpower to finish, and reading the rest of it became a chore. I felt like a five year old forced to eat her vegetables – “Eeeww, I dont have to keep reading do I?”   I understood the poetics of it: the entire first chapter with the Boeing airplane arriving with corpses for passengers is an obvious homage to the ship inDracula. While a good idea in theory, in practice it reads like an instruction manual for an airport mechanic. Tons and tons of information about airplanes and how they work, none of which pertains to the story in any way whatsoever. These first few pages set the tone for the entire novel – tons of useless background information that has nothing to do with the characters or the story. Any author will agree that type of writing is the sure sign of a novice writer: over-explaining.
I understand it – you do the research learning about a new subject, and you get really excited about it, and somehow everything you learned ends up spread throughout the book. But that’s what editors are for – to weed all that extra crap out. The editor for this book needs to be smacked – hard. Not to mention Chuck Hogan. I dont know who wrote what, but this CSI type of paranormal fantasy just doesnt work with these two.

As far as the actual plot goes, the major issue for me was the combination of science and fantasy as far as the vampires are concerned. Vampirism is presented as a biological virus, but then vampires cant cross running water, have to sleep in the earth of their homeland, can be detected by looking at their reflection in a silver mirror, etc. But not all the vampires in this story are effected by the fantasy aspects.  So… is it a virus or a paranormal happening? And if it’s a virus then why did nobody try to find a cure, but just started killing everything? There are so many inconsistencies it makes it difficult to connect to the story.
The characters are bland stereotypes, and though they go through situations that are obviously meant to be heartbreaking, it still doesn’t help in connecting to them or their believability.
However, even in the midst of this travesty of a novel, I do see the film potential – which is probably what the original intention was. Perhaps a few rewrites and some omissions would make it a decent script.
I doubt it, but maybe.

In my opinion, skip “The Strain” as well as the two sequels coming out in 2010 and 2011. And if you’re determined to read it so you have something to talk about with all your geek friends who love it, I suggest saving yourself the time and frustration, and just check the Wikipedia page.

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