Friday, March 16, 2007

17. Among Madmen by Jim Starlin and Dana Graziunas

Among Madmen cover pictureI feel like this was a cool Post-apocalyptic find. S.W. Welch's, the stalwart used bookstore on the Main, right across the streets from Schwartz's is moving (sad days as the Main slowly transforms) and they had a big $1 sale. There really wasn't any real treasures, but I found a few neat things, including this little gem, a novel with illustrations ("A unique new form of novel" or something like that it says on the back).

The story takes place in a small town in the Catskills, holding out after the Troubles. The Troubles in this case is a plague that first and gradually starts turning people into shambling vegetables. They aren't threatening or anything, but as their numbers increase, they slowly become a massive social and logistical weight on society. I mean what do you do with them? Just when things are getting really ugly (vegetables being rounded up and shipped to islands, mass starvation, economic collapse) a new strain of the virus, starts turning others into total psycho beserkers. It's worse than just turning them violent, because they retain their intelligence and some of them plot and take their time before exacting their own specific form of sadistic cruelty. It's an intricate but well-thought out apocalypse and quite fun in the telling.

The hero is an ex-Vietnamen vet, ex-NYC cop who made his way to the Catskills. The town is fortified and there are enough competent people here (used to hunting and living in the forest) that it manages to hold on, despite the occassional veg-out or psycho transformation as well as bands of marauders and bandits.

The story is about the hero as he tries to protect the town and his relationship with his wife, who has turned into a psycho. The disease manifests itself differently in her, coming out only after she has had sex. The guy has the situation all planned out, where he locks her in a padded closet until after her good self returns. Of course, the town is not happy with his situation and this is a major source of conflict.

A lot of the book is about how people deal with their loved ones when they have gone psycho or veg. One woman cares for her husband, even though he shows up in town naked wandering around with his jaw hanging open every now and then. Another woman has her psycho son chained to the back porch. He lives in a doghouse and when he is calm, she spends time with him. It's cool because when she first does it, the kid, who was always a pudgy wimp, is so fat and harmless that the sheriff can't bring himself to shoot him and lets the lady keep him. However, after months of snarling and yanking on his chain and eating whatever raw meat the lady throws him, the kid starts getting thin and strong and starts to become a real problem. I thought that was a neat idea.

There is nothing super profound here, but it is a lot of fun and competently written. There isn't any excessive bullshit either and the setting follows its internal logic well. A good little find and I'm glad to add it to the PA collection.

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