No, it’s not because he’s failed to respond to my countless invitations to dinner, or the way his eyes seem to see straight into my heart. Oh… wait. That’s unrelated. Best you just ignore that.
Keene first brought my rotten heart back to life when he broke onto the horror scene with The Rising. That tale of father Jim Thurmond trying to get to his son, Danny, in the midst of a zombie apocalypse is both terrifying and a tear jerker. As a young father who was going through a divorce and worried the end of his first marriage would devour his relationship with his son much like the zombies in Keene’s debut novel, the book spoke to me and introduced me to an author I grew to admire.
When Leisure Books – the publisher who handled Keene’s work in the early 2000s – went tits up, I lost track of Keene. Sure, I followed his blog, watched his tweets on Twitter, and was aware he was still cranking copy, but I wasn’t reading his fiction.
So, when our knitting editor threw me a copy of Keene’s Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes From The End Of The World and demanded I read it or be fed to the giant worms burrowing just below the surface, I was ecstatic. While the book, out now from Deadite Press, was a welcome addition to my reading library, the experience was… well… sort of like hacking up that dead hooker in the closet: You know you should be enjoying yourself, but there’s just something missing.
Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes From The End Of The World is a collection of short stories set in the world of Earthworm Gods and Earthworm Gods II: Deluge. From the first drop of rain to humanity’s last waterlogged stand, these tales chronicle the fall of man against a horrifying, unstoppable evil. And as the waters rise of the United States, The United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere – brand new monsters surface – along with some familiar old favourites, to wreak havoc on an already devastated mankind.
– from Deadite Press
The set up is simple: It’s the end of the world as rains have started to fall across the globe and humanity is being swept away in the flood. Thrown into the mix are the giant worms from Keene’s novel, Conquerer Worms; killer fish; half-human/half-shark monsters; and, or course, human monsters. The book is filled with short stories detailing the plight of survivors trying to stay afloat – literally and figuratively – as the waters rise.
Sadly, the collection of tales doesn’t match the novel’s atmosphere for two main reasons. First, the tales are short – we’re talking an average of four or five pages – and don’t allow that connection with the characters. Instead of fleshed out people we can care about, we’re left with cardboard entities who don’t spend enough time with us to relate to. The characters in each story, by the way, are real people who won a contest or paid to be in the tales or some such shit. Really, I don’t care. This means the author’s introduction of these people feels stilted as he gives their names, works in their loved ones, where they worked, and how they’re trying to survive.
Secondly, the tales all feel as though they follow the same pattern. Each story has the characters either adrift on some vessel, trapped in a building, or on a mountain. That’s understandable considering there’s not much you can do with a scenario such as the one Keene has created, and even in his gifted hands the tales begin to feel cookie-cutter-like by the time you reach the fourth or fifth offering.
However, going back to my earlier comment about Keene’s ability to bring some tears to the eyes, the author does manage to hit with One Last Breath, a tale of a father’s love for his young son and his sacrifice to see him survive.
It’s unfortunate that I should find this collection lacking, because I feel this work shouldn’t mire a reader’s perception of Keene’s ability as a writer. I only hope that fans unfamiliar with Keene discover him through his stronger works and not this deadweight, because it sinks like a stone in the rising waters of his work.