I finally managed to read Vermin (Horror 342 pages) and Pages, the first two books in the Stanley Cooper Chronicles, by Scott A. Johnson this week. These books have been on my list of things I’ve wanted to read for a quite some time and it was refreshing to finally have the resources to read them. I’m going to do my best to write my review without providing any spoilers for those who haven’t read them.
The absolute best part about Stanley Cooper is that he’s not a hero. He’s not some gorgeous, modelesque, smart, witty hero who goes dashing into the fray with every weapon known to man. He’s an average guy, who describes himself as kind of short and dumpy who winds up running away from things. Most of the time he spends running, he hates it and his internal dialogue tries to convince him that maybe he should try that jogging thing more often, especially if he’s going to wind up being chased by all sorts of nasty things. The point I’m going for here is that Stanley is human. He’s afraid of things and he spends a lot of time not knowing what to do, but knowing that he has to do something.
It’s been a long time since I was anywhere near a bookstore, library, or any other house of books, but when I was last in one, it seemed to me that a good portion of the books on the shelves involved heroes or heroines who were already powerful. There are books about vampire hunters and magic-users and a whole slew of people who already know what they’re doing, and even if they didn’t, you know they’d find the firepower to save the whole world. Stanley, on the other hand, gets in trouble and seems to have a destructive pattern that the bubonic plague might envy. He doesn’t just shrug off the deaths of others – it affects him strongly. He grieves and feels guilty because he gets caught up in things that are way over his head. He winds up in the hospital and in jail. He makes huge mistakes and gets tired, hungry, and frustrated.
I like stories about people who are human. This goes even back to my comic book days where I always preferred Marvel over DC because it always seemed to me like DC heroes all started out special. Superman was from another planet, Batman was born rich, etc., where Spider-Man was bitten, Daredevil was stricken blind, any of the mutants all came into their power during their teenage years, Captain America was a patriot who underwent experimentation in order to become a soldier, all normal people who had to learn how to deal with the extraordinary. Just like Stanley.
The stories were both well-written and motivated a variety of emotions, which is what every writer strives to do. If you develop an emotional response or an emotional attachment between the readers and the text, the readers will have a more difficult time putting the book down or moving on to other tasks. A lot of the descriptions involving the decay of the smaller town around Pittsburgh filled me with a sense of sorrow for days in the past. It seems to me as though the more we progress technologically, the more of ourselves we lose. The places Stanley visits are remnants of people’s lives, of better times, and these books are so expertly written that I felt frustrated and sorry for the way our lives are today. I thought about the time in history where you knew the names of all your neighbors and spent time shopping in their stores, where local communities provided for each other. Then the death toll in those areas already run down and abandoned went up as Stanley and his friends fled through them, chased by two different beasties in the two different books. It made me feel even a little worse for those areas because it seems like the only people who would still be in those areas would only have stayed where they were out of love or economy. And then their love and dedication were rewarded by being torn apart, eaten, or turned into a zombie.
From sorrow, I moved into the horror realm, where the bad guys in these books provide you with a few of the ways you don’t want to die. Both of the main nasties provide ways for people to lose themselves and become hazardous to others. I really liked that this looks at the classical view of zombies, where it’s not some virus that man created, but rather that someone rather bad took control of your death, sucked your energy out, used your body to torment your friends, made your soul watch, and then made your soul blink out of existence completely. That’s one of the worst ways to go that I can currently think of – not just to die, but to watch yourself cause injury to those you love.
One of the other selling points to the books is that none of the characters are stereotypes. Not only is Stanley completely human, but so are Maggie and the collection of other characters that turn up in the books. Maggie is an open, honest woman who wears sweatpants to be comfortable. She’s happy exactly as she is, but she also isn’t perfect by a long shot. She’s powerful and knows her craft very well, but she doesn’t know everything and has to ask Evergreen for help. She doesn’t cruise around in tight leather clothes, wearing stilettos, and waving around weapons she has no ability to use.
As for the bad guys, they’re really nasty. The more I think about it, the more I’m pretty sure that there is a lot of potential for Stanley to be in a lot of trouble considering that some of bad guys aren’t destroyed completely. Overall, I definitely like the series so far and will read the next one as soon as I am capable.