Saturday, July 16, 2005

Whose Midnight Fear Are We? Scott Westerfeld, Midnighters: The Secret Hour, (New York: Eos, 2004)

Scott Westerfeld is not new to the sf scene, and he is the kind of person (a fan in other words) who we can expect to know how to write sf, which is why he seems to have produced a horror novel with the sensibilities of sf rather than thrill fiction.

Jessica Day moves into the small town of Bixby from Chicago, and although she hits it off with the "in" crowd, she also falls in with a bunch of weirdos who don't like the daylight, wear black a lot and are covered in metal jewelry. In the middle of the night she wakes up and discovers the world asleep with the exception of her weirdo chums and weird black slithery things.

Rex (a Seer), Dess (polymath weapons maker), Melissa (mind scanner) and Jonathan (acrobat) explain to her that these are the Darklings, pushed by humans into creating their own time, a single hour in which time is rolled tight. And guess what? They are all the same age... you just know that by the end of the sequence there will turn out to be a reason for that.

So far so Buffy.

What makes this interesting is that Westerfield uses the techniques of sf to write the book, not the techniques of horror. From the beginning we are embedded in the world of the Midnighters. Dess explains to Jessica why she is using thirteen letter words to name weapons long after we see her use them. It takes us a while to figure out that the acrobat Rex and Melissa are talking about is Jessica, and I didn't figure out quite what it was a Seer did until the very end. Missing is the latency, the over-descriptive drawing out of fear, the sense that the world is thinned of the classic horror genre.

Both the real world and the midnight world feel full, and although one is challenging the other actually, it's the midnight world of the Darklings that is under threat. If any world needs to look for the wolves in its walls, its the poor darklings whose last refuge is threatened by a human who can bring technology into the midnight hour. The Midnighters is a mirror reverse of the intrusion fantasy. Usually in the intrusion fantasy, the threat gets bigger, nastier, more of (think James Herbert's The Rats).... In The Midnighters its actually the humans whose weapons (moving from primitive spears thru to atomic jets) are getting bigger, badder, closer...more intimate....


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You spelled the author's name wrong. There's no i in the last name.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Farah said...


1:38 AM  

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