Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ex Libris: Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium

It's interesting to note that the act of creation can be akin to the act of exorcism. But then again, how many creators (writers especially) have said they create in order to work out their inner or personal demons? What or where is the line between our creations-- and our demons? Or are they the same?

The world of Daryl Gregory's debut novel, Pandemonium, is similar to ours except that demon possession is the norm since the 1950s. These demons jump from person to person at random, causing havoc as they do so. Nobody knows where these demons come from, what they want, and where they'll go next. Whether these invaders are really demons or mind-controlling aliens or even archetypes straight out of Carl Jung's studies, no one can really say.

Among the recorded demons include: The Captain, a shield-bearing military man; The Truth, a shadowy two-gun-toting vigilante for justice; The Painter; The Kamikaze; The Boy Marvel; The Hellion, and even an alien called Valis that currently possesses an aging SF writer. Each demon acts according to their name (and ability), and the person they possess have no choice nor even memory of their actions. If you think the demons sound familiar, then you're right: Gregory takes well-known comic book and pulp characters and re-imagines them as modern-day myths.

Twenty-something Del Pierce once suffered possession when he was five years old by the Hellion, a demon with a preference for possessing blond-haired little boys. Fortunately, he survived the encounter even as he managed to wrest control of his body from the demon with the help of a doctor and his caring family. Unfortunately, it seems the demon never left his body and now that he's older, it wants out. As Del tries to find a way to rid himself of the demon inside him, he seeks the help from several people-- including a female priest with a past as colorful as his-- while shadowy groups determine that Del may know more about these demon possessions than he lets on. Ultimately, Del will find out the truth of his past-- and he may not like it.

Gregory's book is a fantastic, top-notch effort with its well-drawn characters you can sympathize and crisp plotting despite the intellectual and philosophical dialogue. Despite being his debut book, Gregory never falters in telling his story-- no first-time author jitters here. I do admit I felt there were a few times during the narrative when I was wondering where the story was going or what was the point. Fortunately, Gregory keeps the story on an even-keel despite these shaky periods until the climax and final revelation. More than this, Gregory manages to juggle perfectly the exploration of the possibility of these demons as well as their mystery.

(On a side note, Gregory thinks well of one my favorite writers, Sean Stewart. Given that I've just finished reading Stewart's earlier work Mockingbird, I can see the similarity between the two works. Stewart's novel also deals with possession-- minor gods in this case. But whereas Mockingbird is about living with one's demons, Pandemonium is about dealing with them and exorcising them. But I digress.)

If ever, my only quibble about the book was that a few pages before the final act, I managed to guess what was coming. But even then, Gregory does a proper job of penning a heartfelt and conclusive ending. This is one of the better books I've read this year and Gregory is an author I'm definitely keeping an eye out for. (Rating: Four paws out four.)

*This book is available locally at Fully-Booked.


Charles said...

Didn't realize his book was available at Fully Booked.

banzai cat said...

Been a long time available, man.