I first became aware of Jim Bernheimer while in a chat room. We were talking about superheroes, and I mentioned Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible and I was talking about how it was an interesting take on superheroes, specifically the poor bastards who had to ride the wave of a shift from a Silver Age to a more Grimdark age. While I was waxing poetic about it, someone suggested I look in Confessions of a D-List Supervillain. With a title like that, how could I resist (incidentally, you should totally read that book, but I'm not talking about it today; however, it seems he wrote a prequel, hmm...).
Fast forward awhile, and I found myself looking for something light to read so, on a lark, I fed his name into a Barnes & Noble search and it spit out... Rider.
|Dark Waters Trilogy
I'm writing this having finished the third and final (at last, a trilogy that ends with three) book of the series, Dweller in the Deep.
These books are... difficult to describe. They have a 1920s sensibility with a more modern writing style, so they aren't difficult to read, or pumped full of purple prose, but they still have their hearts firmly in the era, which is good. However, there are still times where they remind you of just what era you're in:
The journey to Providence, a distance of around seventy miles or so, would normally have taken no more than a few hours, with a couple of stops to buy gas...No more than a few hours with multiple stops for gas. To go seventy miles. Love it.
The stories are about what you would expect from this kind of thing: creepy happenings in Arkham lead to dark and dangerous discoveries. It starts tame enough, just some ghouls loping around devouring coeds, so on and so forth. As we get to the second and third book, we're introduced to more and more monsters, beasties, deities, and all around horrible things.
Interwoven in these stories are side jaunts to the Dreamlands (the description of the Vale of Pnath and the associated escape via the Vaults of Zin were wonderfully written), especially in Bones of Yopasi, as well as a very welcome amount of character development. Which, honestly, is one thing missing from most of the original Mythos stories; character development is usually just sane → insane → dead. Here, there's actual development of the characters, and they move in different directions from each other; almost like they're real people dealing with horrible things.
My first exposure to Allen Steele came back in the early 90s when my uncle had a copy of the first Near Space book (back before they were being called that): Orbital Decay. I had never read much science fiction back then, and wasn't really familiar with the concept of hard sci-fi vs. soft or operatic sci-fi. Steele writes pretty crunchy sci-fi. And while I've found I prefer softer sci-fi, I make an exception for Steele (or at least this series) because of what he chooses to focus on: blue collar wage slaves in space. While Orbital Decay had a sweeping plot about the NSA (foreshadowing?), it was more about the day-to-day lives of the beamjacks working on building a giant satellite in space. Essentially, it's Ironworkers Local #395... IN SPAAAAAAAACE!
Hey, after all those stores about lantern-jawed men with blaster rays in the spacity ships banging green-skinned virgins from Orion, it's a pretty jarring shift, but a very welcome one. It may be hard sci-fi, but it's also comfortable and even a little familiar (the moondogs think their union is a useless leech; ASWI must be part of SEIU). There's no ray guns or faster-than-light travel, or anything. Hell, it's called Near Space for a reason: the furthest outpost is Mars, and that's only tangentially mentioned. It may take place 40 or 50 years in the future (from its publication in 1991), but it's still very, very grounded (HA!) in the real world. And, again, it's Joe Lunchpail in space. I just love that concept. It's why I latched on to Orbital Decay so tightly. In fact, I still have my copy of that book (my uncle didn't like it so he let me have it) sitting on the bookshelf in my spare bedroom/library. I still pull it down and read it from time to time, and just might do so again before too long.
But enough about the series in general and my nostalgia goggles. What about Lunar Descent itself?