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New Release Review: SURVIVOR SONG by Paul Tremblay
Austin Gragg

I first noticed Paul’s work when I put together a little book group with two of my best friends, Blake, and Tyler. We called it “Crack a Book with the Boys” — yes, I enjoy poking a little fun at the inert Midwest culture which raised me. We picked CABIN AT THE END OF THE WORLD by Mr. Paul Tremblay; a story about a gay couple who take their daughter on a vacation and things go apocalyptically wrong. Tremblay’s brazen style and willingness to take risks in his storytelling captivated me. You’ll find all the same style and literary finesse in SURVIVOR SONG.

Tremblay alternates the chapters in this story between two best friends who try to navigate a pandemic of “super rabies,” as the media in the novel calls it. Yes, it’s a pandemic book, but not one that feels like it’s cashing in. Survivor Song is here to live in the moment — to use the moment, to explore the author’s interests in human love, trust, and friendship.

The hard boxing ring strike of the prologue alone was enough to propel me through the first quarter of the book in my first sitting. Tremblay’s DOOM-fast rip and tear pacing couples perfectly with his choice to reprise his signature execution of the present-tense narrative. Much like Tremblay’s other novels, the reader is not told what to think about the journey. Instead, we are witness to incredible events involving people who prove to have incredible character.

The narrative voice is perfectly close, but not too close. It leaves us on our own to make judgement calls and draw conclusions. This is something to dig about Tremblay’s work. Many in genre today write stories which hold the hand of the reader and lead them to the “correct” conclusions. Those stories can be fine and dandy — but there’s something special in an exploration, safety-net guidance removed.

Fiction like this can leave you feeling raw. Fiction like this is important, because it makes us think about some of the most important questions we can ponder as humans. Time and time again, Tremblay proves horror is something to make you feel and think.

You might not enjoy it if you’re not feeling up to a pandemic book. But, this book is both very much a zombie book and also not a zombie book in that same way it is and is not a pandemic book. You’ll love it if you enjoy fiction with no punches pulled and no happy endings promised. This book is for horror fans who enjoy the raw and complex speaking ultimately to something higher than itself. If you enjoy most A24 produced horror films, you’ll enjoy Tremblay’s work and certainly this novel.

A special thank you to the publisher, William Morrow/An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, and their publicity team for getting us an ARC of this excellent book.

When purchasing this book, or any book, it is my strong encouragement that you support your local brick and mortar store or shop indie online through a site such as indiebound.org or bookshop.org.

Blurb From the Publisher:

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages . . . and shake them to their core.

Old Release Spotlight:

Batman V1: The Court of Owls &, Batman V2: The City of Owls — Released 2013

“Austin, 2013 was seven years ago!” Yes. Yes, it was. And here dear reader is where we travel through Time as well as Space.

I am an enormous Batman fan, but I’m a particular Batman fan. I am a Batman the Animated Series kind of bat-fan. That show defined the cast of Gotham City for many as it pulled influence from the old-school Detective Comics as well as the more gritty noir from Batman’s darker interpretations in the 80s and 90s. When I think of the best portrayals of the Dark Knight, nothing beats that so-dark-they-had-to-draw-it-on-black-paper kind of noir that positioned the Caped Crusader as a detective foremost.

This, now almost seven-year-old, reboot of Batman for DC’s “New 52” is stellar. Scott Snyder writes a Batman story that not only challenges the Dark Knight in new and interesting ways, but keeps the core of the story focused on the Detective’s ability to solve a mystery and as always, be tested to his physical limit. Greg Capullo’s pencil work and Jonathan Glapion’s inking come together to create some of the most memorable Batman art since Hush (2002).

These two books — which complete the “Owls” first arc in The New 52 — will be met with joy from any batman fan looking for a perfect balance between nostalgia and fresh-takes. It will also sit well with dark fantasy and mystery fans who don’t mind the vehicle being a superhero.

When purchasing this book, or any book, it is my strong encouragement that you support your local brick and mortar store or shop indie online through a site such as indiebound.org or bookshop.org.

My Review Policy:

This being my inaugural entry involving reviews for Space & Time, I should probably state my intentions for this column. My review policy is simple: I will only write about books worth reading. Doing otherwise would be a waste of your time. If you’d like to hear about some things I hate — and there is no lack of items on that list — you’ll need to write in to me, or better, buy me a drink at a con (after this pandemic of course) — I’m sure I can rant your ear off. But here, in this column, I’ll provide a mixture or selection of three general things: new release reviews, spotlights on old releases who deserve your attention, and commentary on the speculative fiction world (just reviews this time). In reviews, I’ll do my best (as a former librarian with plenty of recommendation experience) to tell you who I think these books and stories are for — and who they are not for — because this column is for YOU, the fans of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

Want to write in? You’ll have to cast GraggonSpeak@gmail.com

Copyright © 2020 by Austin Gragg