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Monday, March 14, 2011

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan: THE STRAIN TRILOGY

Plot Type: Horror Fantasy
Publisher and Titles: HarperCollins
     The Strain (2009)
     The Fall (2010)
     The Night Eternal (2011)

     Even though this series falls outside my definition for paranormal fiction, I'm including it because it has some read-alikes in the paranormal fiction genre.  If you enjoyed reading David Wellington's MONSTER/ZOMBIES series or his LAURA CAXTON series or watching The Walking Dead TV series, you'll probably like this one. Justin Cronin's The Passage (also the first of a trilogy) tells a similar story.

     Del Toro has achieved fame as the director of movies such as The Devil's Backbone, Blade II, Hellboy I, Hellboy II, and the Academy Award-winning Pan's Labyrinth.  Chuck Hogan is the author of novels that include The Standoff and Prince of Thieves.

   In an interview on, del Toro says that one of his favorite authors is Roald Dahl, who mixed "the grotesque and the magical." Explaining that he chose vampires as his villains because he loves "the rephrasing of an old myth," del Toro goes on to say that he was also heavily influenced by Richard Matheson and Jeff Rice's 1972 TV movie, The Nightstalker, which pits "a common worker, a man used to dealing with things in a procedural way" against a powerful vampire. 

               NOVEL 1:  The Strain               
     In the first scene of The Strain, a plane travels from Germany to New York City, lands at JFK Airport with no apparent problems, and then comes to a standstill—no lights, no movement, no response whatsoever from the pilots.  Eventually, investigators find all but four of the passengers dead in their seats, killed by an unknown...something. The story follows a small group of widely diverse characters who become key players in determining the cause of the deaths and then in attempting to solve the greater problem—defeating the evil that is at the root of the entire catastrophe. 

     The series title comes from the cause of the deaths: a vampiric viral strain that takes over its host body and will soon decimate the city's population. These vampires are not the suave and handsome vamps of traditional urban fantasy fiction. They are more like the Nosferatau, with the added feature of a stinger/sucker appendage in their throat that can whip out to stab, suck dry, and transform a human up to six feet away. These are mindless, vicious beasts who live only to suck human blood and spread the virus. The story follows the good guys as they figure out what's happening and take a few tiny steps towards fixing the problem.  

     The book ends four days later with the fate of the world in the hands of four "common workers": two epidemiologists, a pawnbroker, and an exterminator. Since this is book 1 of a trilogy, the ending is, of course, leaves us hanging—with much more to come.

Here is the cast of characters in The Strain:
     Abraham Setrakian: a pawnbroker as well as a former Viennese professor of history and a Holocaust survivor who has been hunting down vampires for most of his life.

     Dr. Ephraim ("Eph") Goodweather:  head of the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Canary team—a rapid response team of field epidemiologists who respond to biological threats. By the end of the book, Eph realizes that he is no longer a healer—he is now a hunter. The Canary team is named after the canaries used by early miners to warn them of dangerous gases (i.e., the canaries died first so that the miners could escape). (Click HERE for more info on canaries in coal mines.)

     Kelly and Zack Goodweather:  Eph's estranged wife and son.

     Dr. Nora Martinez: Eph's second in command on the Canary team—a biochemist and Eph's sometime lover.

     Vasiliy Fet: exterminator extraordinaire, a worker for the New York City Bureau of Pest Control Services who applies his unique vermin-killing skills to a new type of pestilence.

Those were the good guys. Now, here are the villains (Hiss! Boo!):

     Dr. Everett Barnes: Director of the CDC: not so much a villain as the typical idiot that turns up in every disaster book and movie—the bureaucrat who dithers around blaming his more-competent underlings for every setback and keeping things out of the public eye so that nobody panics—right up until the whole situation blows up in his face.

     Eldritch Palmer: an eccentric, health-obsessed billionaire with political and governmental connections that allow him to manipulate events to his own advantage. He is a member of the exclusive and secretive Stoneheart Group, whose members will be major players throughout the series.

     The Master:  an ancient and powerful rogue vampire.

               NOVEL 2:  The Fall               
Publisher's Blurb:
     "The Fall picks up where The Strain left off—with a vampiric infection spreading like wildfire across America as a small band of heroes struggles to save the dwindling human race from the vampire plague. Horror fiction and dark fantasy fans will be swept up in this epic story that bestselling author Nelson DeMille describes as 'Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton.' ”

Plot Summary From Wikipedia: 
     "The vampire race is descended from seven vampiric 'Ancient Ones.' A vampire faction, led by a renegade Ancient known as the Master, instigates the takeover of human civilization. Elderly billionaire Eldritch Palmer, having been promised immortality by the Master, uses his influence to create a news blackout, ensuring that the vampires face little resistance. Abraham Setrakian, an aged vampire hunter, is hopeful that the lost grimoire, Occido Lumen, holds the key to defeating the Master, and searches for it before the Master's forces take over. 

     "Setrakian is aided by epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather and pest exterminator Vasiliy Fet, who have joined those resisting the vampires. Goodweather also seeks to protect his son, Zach from his wife, Kelly, who is now a vampire and is driven by an animalistic instinct to convert her family. Meanwhile, the other Ancient Ones enlist gang member Gus Elizalde to destroy the Master."

               NOVEL 3:  The Night Eternal               
Publisher's Blurb:
     "The Night Eternal begins where The Strain and The Fall left off: with the last remnants of humankind enslaved by the vampire masters in a world forever shrouded by nuclear winter. Still, a small band of the living fights on in the shadows, in the final book of the ingenious dark fantasy trilogy that Newsweek says is, 'good enough to make us break that vow to swear off vampire stories.'”

Plot Summary From Wikipedia:
     "Two years have passed since the vampires, led by the Master, used atomic weapons to create a nuclear winter, blocking the sun almost continuously and allowing the vampires to move freely, except for a two or three-hour period when sunlight filters through. The vampires have restructured society as a police state: the strongest and most influential humans have been exterminated. Those spared are used as slaves, while the infirm and weak have been herded into concentration camps to harvest their blood.
     "A few survivors continue to resist the vampire occupation. Epidemiologist Dr. Ephraim Goodweather grows distant from his friends: the Master, now occupying the body of rock star Gabriel Bolivar, has adopted Goodweather's son, Zach, as his protégé, and is grooming the boy to be his next host body. Goodweather's lover, Dr. Nora Martinez, leaves him for exterminator Vasiliy Fet. Following his friend, Abraham Setrakian's death, Fet struggles to decipher the Occido Lumen, a tome possibly holding the key to defeating the Master. He is aided by Mr. Quinlan, the Master's vengeful half-vampire son.
     "Flashbacks to biblical times reveal the vampire race's origins: the seven 'Ancient Ones,' including the Master, arose from Ozryel. Ozryel was an archangel of death, and was one of the three angels that God sent to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. Ozryel was overcome with bloodlust while the cities were destroyed. God punished him by having the other archangels cut his body into seven pieces and scattering them across the Earth. Over time, Orzyel's blood leaked from the burial sites and became sentient, thus spawning the Ancient Ones. The Master was spawned from Ozryel's head.
     Goodweather finally deciphers the Occido Lumen and determines that the Master originated on one of the Thousand Islands in Lake Ontario. The survivors detonate a nuclear weapon on the island. Goodweather, Zach, and Mr. Quinlan are killed, but the Master's strain is permanently eradicated. In the explosion, Nora witness Ozryel, presumably purified, reunited with Gabriel and Michael who have come to return him to heaven. This was possible because Mr. Quinlan brought the other Ancients' ashes with him, following instructions he read in the Lumen. All the vampires disintegrate, and surviving humans can rebuild society. Nora and Vasiliy move to Vermont where they have two children, a boy named after Ephraim and a girl named Mariela, for Nora's mother."

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