Angry Robot, 2012
I first encountered Chuck Wendig’s writing over at his frequently funny, often insightful, and consistently entertaining blog Terrible Minds. The folks over at Angry Robot supplied an eARC of his novel Blackbirds which I snatched up at the first possible opportunity. Blackbirds follows the tale of Miriam Black whose strange ability allows her to perceive a person’s future with skin to skin contact. She has used this ability to travel the roads preying on those whose lives are soon to end. She isn’t a murderer, she just waits for fate to her thing. Such is Miriam’s life, a crow living of the leavings of other people’s lives, until she meets truck driver Louis Darling. In her vision of Louis’ future and inevitable death he shouts her name.
Blackbirds is a story about fate that sort of asks that age old question of whether or not we can change the future. I say “sort of” because while this notion certainly drives Miriam forward it never ever takes center stage over how that question effect’s Miriam’s life. Under a lesser writer it would have been easy for that time honored question of “can we save our future?” to turn into something ham-handed and grating. Wendig avoids that trap by focusing his attention on Miriam has adapted to the belief that fate cannot be stopped. He populates his story with a colorful cast of characters as he slowly begins to challenge Miriam’s beliefs about herself and her strange power.
Miriam is one tough-as-nails young woman. Maybe note the kind of girl you bring home to Mom but in many ways still admirable. Take a look at Miriam as she watches a man die:
“I know what you’re thinking,” she says as Del’s eyes start to bulge like champagne corks ready to pop.
“Jeez, why doesn’t this broad stick a wallet under my tongue? Couldn’t she do me a solid? Or maybe you’re thinking, hey, I’ve had seizures before, and none of them killed me. A guy can’t actually swallow his own tongue, right? That’s just a myth? Or maybe, just maybe, you think I’m some kind of batshit highway witch with magical powers.”
He gurgles. His cheeks go red. Then purple.
Miriam shrugs, wincing, watching it unfold with grim fascination. Not that this is the first time she’s seen it.
“Not so, my friendly neighborhood whore-puncher. This is your destiny, to choke on your own mouth meats, to expire here in this God-fucked motel in the middle of Hell’s half-acre. I’d do something if I could, but I can’t. Were I to put the wallet under your tongue, I’d probably only push the tongue in deeper. See, my mother used to say, ‘Miriam, it is what it is.’ And this, Del Amico, is that.”
Froth bubbles out over Del’s ashen lips. The blood vessels in his eyes burst.
Just like she remembers it.”
Then of course just a couple of lines later:
“Miriam takes a deep breath and shudders. She tries to speak, tries to say she’s sorry, but – She can’t stop it. She runs to the bathroom and pukes in the toilet.”
That contrast to Miriam, the push and pull between her use of her power to survive and her helplessness against what it shows her is the real crux of the novel. You have in Miriam a wonderfully crafted character who actually feels for her fellow man but has done her best to numb herself to that feeling because of the pain it causes.
What I love about Blackbirds is that Wendig never fully explores the deeper mysteries behind Miriam’s power. He explores just enough to hint at a deeper mystery but remains entirely focused on Miriam and the plot of the novel. Things get weirder and more violent as the novel progresses and in a series of interludes Wendig lays out not only Miriam’s past but also explores her own sanity…or maybe something else. That’s the beauty of it. The interludes that are towards the end of the novel serve well as the inner workings of a fractured mind or insight into a deeper truth behind Miriam’s abilities. I’m not sure I even want or need an answer.
Fans of horror fiction and good simple storytelling should definitely give Blackbirds a shot. Chuck Wendig is an author to watch and, if I had any power whatsoever, I’d like to see Blackbirds on the 2012 Stoker ballot. Miriam’s story doesn’t end with Blackbirds more of Miriam can be seen in Mockingbird which is set to release from Angry Robot in September. Wendig is also working on the Dinoocalypse trilogy; a series of novels based in Evil Hat Games’ Spirit of the Century RPG world and I’m definitely seeing what sort of high octane pulp action Wendig has in store there.