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CHASM By Stephen Laws – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by stanleyriiks

Apocalypse and post-apocalypse novels really float by boat. Armageddon is often a beautiful mix of sf and horror, superbly blended to create novels and stories that are at once horrifyingly realistic, and just a stretch of the imagination away. The end of the world scenario allows a freedom that plain horror just doesn’t.

So as I started reading Chasm, I was getting excited. Laws is one of British’s best horror writers, he started out in the nineties, when I was still young and discovering horror novels for the first time. He brought a Britishness that was sadly lacking from the majority of the novels I read by the likes of King, Laymon, Koontz, etc. Laws was setting a trend, along with Steve Harris, for the British horror novel that has not yet been matched.

Edmonville is a small town which is ripped apart by a massive earthquake that leaves the town in ruins, chasms on all sides. A rag-tag group of survivors band together, hoping that there’s safety in numbers. But then something strange happens. A man in an off-license explodes in a mess of black fluid that chases a couple down to the local survivor centre, and most of the remains of the town’s population are blown to pieces.

Jay, a school cleaner; a lesbian couple who ran the hardware store; a married couple whose son has died; two teenagers from the local school; a young man with a stutter; and a young boy who lost his parents; are all that’s left of the town and must make their way in the new world, trapped as they are on a small piece of ruined town, surrounded by nothing but mile-deep chasms.

So far so good, but Laws tries to do too much. His over-ambition just piles on the horror, and then some more horror, and towards the end, a whole new set of horror in the form of lawless Mad Max/Doomsday type gangs.

Some of its good, but some of this just feels like Laws has been told apocalyptic novels have to be 600 pages long and he’s struggling to get there until inspiration sets in two thirds of the way through. The book just feels too long, it drags through the middle when a nice bit of rewriting would have cut out a couple of hundred pages, shifted the final third of the book forward to the middle and made everything hunky dory!

I’m not saying this is a bad book, Laws is a good writer, the plot is mostly good, and it’s a decent idea. But the end falls a little flat and the “happy ending” is a bit forced. And the biggest problem is the lack of characters. Ok, so this is an ensemble piece, but Jay (our protagonist) has his own diary every few chapters to give us an insight into his character, and even if he died I couldn’t have cared less. The lack of decent and significant characters in a book which is over five hundred pages long just screams rewrite. The characters are fairly clearly defined, they all have backgrounds, albeit brief ones, but none of the characters is more than a cardboard cut-out.

I can’t remember facing this problem with any of Laws’ other novels, and although I’ve only read about four of them, Something South of Midnight was only read just over a year ago.

I wish I could say that Chasm was good, but it’s not. It’s not bad. And it’s certainly got good bits, but with weak characters and being over-long at neatly five hundred and fifty tightly packed pages, Chasm is a wasted opportunity. Such a shame.

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