NeoCon Classic Horror #33
January 2013, $4.99, eBook
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
I’ve enjoyed reading Matthew Costello’s fiction since I met him at HorrorCon ’89, a celebration of all things horror held at the Stanley Hotel in Estes CO, the birthplace, as it were, of Stephen King’s The Shining. I purchased Beneath Still Waters there, completed it long before the return plane ride home, and made a mental note to watch for his name on books in the future. I haven’t read everything of his, not by a far stretch, but everything I have read has been interesting, engaging, and satisfying…including perhaps my favorite of his things to date, Wurm (1991).
I somehow missed the sequel to that remarkable novel when it first appeared in 1993, however; but now I’ve had the opportunity to make up for that loss by reading the Kindle edition of Garden, published this year by NeoCon E-books.
At the end of Wurm—as F. Paul Wilson points out in his introduction to Garden, itself an enormously evocative title—the eponymous worms, deep-sea creatures inhabiting essentially uninhabitable areas near ocean vents, threatened to take over earth’s waterways, but hadn’t…yet.
In Garden, they have. Water has become a frighteningly dangerous element; even to approach a beach is a prima facie justification for immediate execution by vigilant air patrols. New York has been cordoned off and substantially given over to the invading worms and their hosts; the few uninfected human remaining live in constant fear of a horrible death. Even inland cities along waterways have become infected, to the point that the possibility of human annihilation is terrifyingly real.
Jo Cross, her father Michael, Father Farrand, and other survivors from Wurm return in Garden, set five years after the initial outbreak. They are still battling against incursions by the voracious creatures, still turning to science for answers that will save humanity…and not finding them. Approach after approach, test after test has failed to offer any hope.
And then, at the height of the crisis, several people—including Jo, Michael, and Father Farrand—notice something that has gone unremarked for half a decade; and in that discovery, they are convinced, lies the key to everything. Michael agrees to enter New York to search for more information; Father Farrand begins to realize that science is not going to be sufficient for humanity’s survival; and Jo…, well, Jo experiences a horrific dream that provides her with all of the knowledge she needs to go in search of her father and try to save him.
Garden certainly has its share of monsters: the worms themselves and their gaping, red-tined maws; the infected humans spurred by a devastating hunger to feed on their fellows, and more; and something else, something new. Wurm rested in part on a neo-Lovecraftian sense that the worms were simultaneously terrestrial and much, much more. In Garden, that sense becomes overt.
As it does, the novel touches upon, then embraces, one of my favorite elements of horror fiction, one frequently ignored in quests for more blood and more guts: If there is great evil, there must also be great good. This realization alters everything in Garden and allows it to rise above typical Lovecraftian Great Old Ones-trying-to-take-over-the-Earth and deal with underlying, more fundamental issues. It is to Costello’s credit that he manages to make the full actualization of that premise jibe perfectly with the storyline. Those who have survived the initial attacks have done so for a reason, and understanding that reason leads to a final resolution.
The novel is taut, suspenseful, with frequently intercut passages following several characters, all bent upon the same thing: survival, for themselves and for those they love.