The Cultural Gutter

dumpster diving of the brain

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

The Hyper-Advanced Weapon-like Entity on the Mantle

James Schellenberg
Posted December 29, 2011

Foreshadowing is tough: too subtle and the author’s effort is wasted, too obvious and the readers will figure out the setup way too early. Patrick Lee’s The Breach is a master-class in taking the obvious setup and blasting your face off with the thing you thought you were expecting.

The storyline boils down to this: our hero with the action movie name, Travis Chase, is minding his own business in the wilds of Alaska. Through a series of gruesome incidents, he gets involved in the Breach of the title, which is a rift in space-time. Powerful artifacts come through, apparently from the future (or a parallel universe, or something), and anyone who controls a Breach entity has a huge advantage over their enemies. Chaos, and a technothriller-sized dose of ultraviolence, ensues.

Some of these entities are truly scary. The analogy that Lee uses (see link at the end) is of a group of cavemen discovering a barrel full of future technologies: cellphones wouldn’t work, but grenades would be a costly weapon to figure out how to use from first principles. A lot of the Breach entities mess with your head, like the the suitably-named Ares that drives the most gruesome chapter in the book, the one set in Zurich. If you get tagged by Ares, anyone in your immediate area becomes the target of homicidal wrath by everyone in a larger area around that.

That might seem like a spoiler. As does almost any mention of an entity early on in the book. Wow, this foreshadowing is really obvious! If someone tells Travis about the Jump Cut entity that will destroy your memory of the last 3 days for a temporary period, of course it will get used later on in the book.

But that’s the genius of the book: Lee knows that you know what’s coming, and he somehow manages to amp up the inevitable scene into something that’s fresh (and almost always extremely gory). Adam Heine over at Author’s Echo makes a helpful comparison, on this point, between James Cameron’s Avatar (we know what is going to happen, it duly happens) and Avatar The Last Airbender (we know what is going to happen, we can’t wait to see how it will happen).

Lee uses a couple of other tricks in The Breach, assembled together in a crafty way that you don’t always see in scifi thrillers like this. Lots of books provide a manly hero with a troubled past, but few do it as economically and convincingly. Check out this great opening line:

On the first anniversary of his release from prison, Travis Chase woke at four in the morning to bright sunlight framing his window blinds.

So far so good. But Lee delivers a pretty solid bit of characterization on the love interest side, to the point where even though the book begins and ends with Travis, the stunningly beautiful (yet still deadly) operative Paige Campbell gets some great scenes and a hefty chunk of attention, character-building-wise. Paige is not arm-candy, getting pulled along on manly adventures; she kicks ass, and most tellingly, when she gets scared about something, it’s usually something horrific. Travis learns quickly enough to take this as a warning.

On top of all that, Lee somehow manages to maintain a blistering pace, despite the Breach-related exposition and some nice character moments. This is an easy book to devour; that’s true of lots of books, but none with as many chewy ideas as this one.

I’ve written a fair bit about good and bad endings here on the Gutter over the years (this is a subject that really rankles with people – I happened to enjoy the ending of the Dark Tower, but some readers are still grumbling about it). So I was a bit nervous about what Lee would be able to pull off here, especially with the escalating series of revelations and graphic encounters. How to top all that stuff? But we’re in good hands, and the ending does not disappoint.

I ran across The Breach a little while ago, as part of the Big Idea series on Whatever.  I just re-read The Breach, and am making my way through the sequel, Ghost Country, again. It’s a pretty solid sequel that doesn’t slavishly follow the first book; Lee builds a fair amount of tension out of the fact that he ignores the cliff-hanger of the first book! And the concluding book in the trilogy just came out this week… Hopefully I will have a happy report soon on the ultimate ending of Travis and Paige’s story.

Comments

2 Responses to “The Hyper-Advanced Weapon-like Entity on the Mantle”

  1. James Schellenberg
    December 31st, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    Finished the third book, Deep Sky. I gotta say, it didn’t go how I thought it would: the overall ending was pretty spectacular (all the secrets revealed, and they were good ones!), but the page-to-page plotting wasn’t as solid as the first two books. I think I was a bit overloaded on “our hero shoots, the villain’s head blows clean off”, as well as the whole 24/Tom Clancy thing where it’s always the President, and he’s always involved personally, and either the current or ex-President (or the VP) is the villain. Got a little tiresome on that score.

  2. Carol Borden
    January 2nd, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

    I’ve been thinking about spoilers and inexorability a lot lately. I’ve never really been bothered by knowing what’s going to happen in something. I mean, yes, it is fun to approach a work fresh. But at the same time, any work that totally relies on a plot twists and can’t stand up to a second look, is kind of flimsy. After all, I don’t feel like I’m done with MacBeth or Moby Dick because I know the plot.

    I’ve also been thinking about this a lot in relation to horror specifically. There is an inexorability that gives it power. The inescapability of it just reinforces the horror for me. Knowing the rules doesn’t help at all.

    Also, I love your title and the nerf gun illustrating it.

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    At Bitch, Liza Dadoly writes about Never Alone. “Never Alone’s plot is based around Alaskan indigenous folklore, specifically the story ‘Kunuuksaayuka,’ a tale told by storyteller Robert Nasruk Cleveland of the Inupiaq people. ‘Kunuuksaayuka’ tells of a young boy who goes out into a blizzard to discover its source and, by doing so, save his people and their way of life from the terrible storm. According to Never Alone’s website, nearly forty Alaskan Native participants, including storytellers and elders, were involved with the development of the game. These Inupiat representatives and Never Alone’s development team worked together to turn ‘Kunuuksaayuka’ into the game, notably changing the protagonist from a young boy into a young girl, Nuna, and giving her an adorable fox to accompany her on her quest.”

    ~

    Quartz has a gallery of Jessica Fulford-Dobson’s photographs of the skater girls of Kabul, Afghanistan.

    ~

    PBS’ Newshour has a gallery of Norbert Ostrowski’s amazing automotive design sketches from 1946 to 1973. “The designs were never meant to leave the studios. Automakers routinely destroyed early sketches for fear they would fall into the wrong hands. But some of them made their way out of Ford, GM and Chrysler, as well as now defunct Studebaker, Packard and AMC. According to one designer, they were smuggled out in boxes with false bottoms. One employee famously hid his sketches inside the liner of his trench coat.”

    ~

    Swell songs on disreputable topics: “Gom Jabbar “ by Chica Non Grata and “Bad Clone” by Victoria Squid.

    ~

    MTV News spoke to directors Lexi Alexander, Brenda Chapman and Yulin Kuang about “what they thought of MacLaren’s departure [from Wonder Woman] and how they think it speaks to the bigger problem in the industry – namely, the lack of opportunities women have in film.” If you’d like to know more about MacLaren’s career, including directing episodes of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Game Of Thrones and The Walking Dead, Vulture has “Michelle MacLaren Is The Best Director On TV” by Matt Zoller Seitz.

    ~

    All Things Considered reports on Make It Pop and South Korean government’s nurturing of Korean pop music, including a special department dedicated to K-Pop at the Ministry of Culture. “This included doing things like building massive, multi-million dollar concert auditoriums, refining hologram technology, and even helping regulate noeraebangs — karaoke bars — to protect the interests of K-pop stars.”

     

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: