(I Also Write Children's Books!)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Random Book Review: The Hellbound Heart

Okay, I left that last post up forever because I wanted people to know that, yes, sequel.  Sequel will happen.

But it's time to move on!

I like to read source material, stories that created archtypes.  Most of them are old - Grimm's Fairy Tales, Peter Pan, Frankenstein, and so on.  The Hellbound Heart is much more recent, but it inspired the Hellraiser series, which really revived the whole Lovecraftian 'circle of candlelight surrounded by a darkness full of horrors' thing.

So, I got it cheap off Amazon (Might even have been free.  Can't remember.) and read the Hellbound Heart to see how this started.  I'm going to want to slip a few biological horrors into At Least I Didn't Blow Up OUR Moon, and it might be good inspiration!

So, how good was the book?  Not very.  It's short, although that's not a good or bad thing, just worth pointing out.  A long short story rather than a book.  My reaction is split into two halves.

First, the ideas are freaking awesome.  The subtle suggestion that one of the Cenobites ('the Engineer') is god, that was clever.  Lamarchand's box, the idea that the music and ritual configurations of opening the box open a portal, also really clever.  Angels are murderous sadomasochists because they demand intense physical sensation over anything else, a cute twist.  Very nice Lovecraftianism there, actually.  It both makes sense and turns morality on its head, creating a new and believable kind of evil.  That is a very, very useful thing for any writer to consider.

My favorite touch by far was when an innocent opens the box by accident, and the Cenobite shows up - and is totally disappointed.  The box is a Faustian contract.  The Cenobites take people to be tortured who ask for pleasures beyond human understanding, and they get what humans do not understand as pleasure.  The Cenobite expresses that it isn't interested in humans who aren't deliberately asking for what they get.  Once the box is opened, the Cenobites have to take someone, but they give her a chance to provide a victim who really did ask for it.

And now the bad news.  The ideas may be good, and even the plot is decent, but the writing is terrible.  Oh Sun Pony, is it bad.  The beginning actually sucks you in, because you think you're reading about some guy back in the 1700s or early 1800s, with their grandiose writing style.  'I have become jaded of the pleasures of the flesh' kind of rhetoric, right?

Nope, it's set in the 80s.  The writing is just that purple.  It goes on like that, with senses of dread and cacophanies of beating wings.  There's not a lot of 'show' and a great deal of 'tell', although some of the physical descriptions of torture are pretty good, and thus effective.  A few good sentences in a novella is not much of a prize.

The characters are worse.  They aren't two dimensional, they're one dimensional.  Each character has one emotion.  That emotion defines them, consumes them, obsesses them.  Frank is a selfish hedonist.  He hardly even has any personality at all, he just does whatever's selfish.  Rory is so clueless it's a wonder he can tie his own shoes.  His role is to never understand anything that's going on, and to have just enough actions to demonstrate he doesn't understand what's going on at any particular moment.  Julia is an unhappy wife.  Why she isn't happy being married to Rory is never clear.  There's no depth to it.  She reacts to everything he does with 'Ugh, why isn't he his sexy brother?'  Rory fails to pick up on that, and that's their entire relationship and really their entire personalities.  Kirsty is depressed and thinks constantly about how inferior she is.  Again, not explained, and the only fleshing out it gets is that she has a crush on Rory.  That's only used for 'But I'm not good enough for him because I suck.'

Thank the Sun Pony the book is short.  I got the ideas without suffering too much of the writing.  I'm happy I read it, but only because I can strain out a few useful concepts and lessons as a writer.  I wouldn't recommend it to anybody.

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