Sunday, May 27, 2012

Dustbowl Gothic

Fantasies set in a 1930s sort of setting are pretty rare, so when I heard about Robert Jackson Bennett's Mr. Shivers it piqued my interest. The titular Mr. Shivers is a scar-faced murder roaming Depression era America, a boogie-man among hobos and itinerants--and perhaps a supernatural entity.  The novel tells the story of group of disparate individuals, their lives destroyed by an encounter with Shivers, who set out on the road to find him and bring him to justice.

Bennett's prose is probably most reminiscent of Stephen King.  The view it presents of the American Dustbowl touched by creepy horror recalls HBO's Carnivale.  Still, the tale it tells is its own and is engaging in a gritty, pulpy sort of way.  Bennett sometimes tends to have the characters give a little more exposition about the facts of the Dustbowl or the Great Depression than seems realistic, but this is a minor complaint.

The novel would certainly make good inspiration for a Depression era horror or dark fantasy campaign.

6 comments:

John Till said...

The Company Man is also quite good, and a corrective for much of the anti-labor/anti-communism in pulp

garrisonjames said...

Thanks for reviewing this book. This one definitely goes on to the Read This list...

Gibbering Mouther said...

The phrase "dustbowl gothic" is good enough to hang a campaign on alone. Something from 'The City' certainly, but Weird West or even straight low fantasy as well. Climate disaster uprooting and displacing populations - explains why gangs of greedy underequipped neebishes are plundering every burial mound and ruin in sight.

Also, gotta agree with Mr. Till - so much conservative sci-fi/fantasy. Why is it always "libertarians in space" not "Lenin on the moon"? Ok both sound dull.

Trey said...

@John - I'll have to check that out, too.

@Garrisonjames - It was a good find and I thought I should share it.

@Gibbering Mouther - Thanks. I do have the Dustlands in the world of the City, and Jason Kielbasa is working on a fantasy Depression era game as well called Dust. but I agree it has usage beyond mid-20th Century inspired fantasy.

I think it would be cool if fantasy and sci-fi reflect reflect a range of political thought--though not be a screed for any.

Gibbering Mouther said...

Just to clarify, I like my fantasy politically nuanced as well. I find Miéville's Scar to be excellent, because even with his strong Marxian/Post-Marxist Materialist views he is not didactic, Iron Council suffers because it is a much more political book (though not bad or as obvious as some).

Bogdanov's Red Star is an amazingly boring and weird book for example, and not just cause it's from 1905.

Trey said...

@Gibbering Mouther - I agree. I just think the story should have supremacy in a work of fiction, otherwise you've just written a polemic. I dig Mieville, though.