The Strain: Episode 1

The Strain is a book written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and first released in 2009. It’s the first book in a series followed by The Fall and The Night Eternal. I reviewed The Strain back in 2009 and you can check out the full review here, I also pulled in my friend Val to do another review which you can find here. If you don’t want to read both reviews let me give you the highlights. We both agreed that The Strain featured a fascinating update to the vampire myth. del Toro and Hogan took familiar elements of vampire folklore and gave them reasoned scientific approach (with the exception of the whole won’t cross running water thing) while at the same time equating the notion of vampirism with that of a virus or parasite. I found that del Toro and Hogan while having a fascinating take on vampires were not terribly great at their character creating a handful of characters that were boring and uninspired and several who were downright fascinating and woefully underexplored. By and large both Val and myself found the The Strain to be a enjoyable and entertaining update to the vampire myth.

Needless to say I was definitely excited about the prospect of The Strain as a television series. del Toro is a masterful visual artist and his distinct eye and unique vision are always a pleasure to watch. Given that the novel had a certain amount of cinematic flair to it it seemed certain that very little would have to be discarded in order to make an entertaining television show. Turns out I was a little bit wrong about that as the pilot episode of The Strain is an enormous mess.

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Review: The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

I read and enjoyed The Strain (as did my friend Val) last year but this time out I nabbed the audiobook version of its sequel The Fall.  The Fall, second book in a planned trilogy, takes place bare moments after the end of The Strain.  New York is sliding further and further into chaos, rioters run rampant, people are disappearing, and the authorities (local or otherwise) are at a loss for what to do.  Abraham Satrakian, Ephraim Goodweather, and the exterminator Vasily form the core of the resistance against the rising vampire population.  Unfortunately they are a resistance with its back to the wall.  As it turns The Master’s plan doesn’t just encompass New York but the world as cities worldwide receive planes full of dead passengers; as New York did at the start of The Strain.

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Val looks at The Strain

Since my friend Val is a big fan of the vampire, and frequently a bit heated about the current state of vampire fiction, I asked her if she’d like to review del Toro and Hogan’s The Strain as a counter-point to my own review. She did so.  Thankfully she managed to trim her 8000+ words down to a more managable 1500 words.  So check out the review below, as always comments are welcome!  -Mike

It’s very hard, in my opinion, to write a truly great and well thought-out vampire book. Sure… you can write a book that has vampire characters in it but that’s a dime a dozen nowadays. I can name at least 10 vampire series of books but not all of them are good. There are so many books out there that just merely throw the vampire into its story, without any real thought as to what they are or where they come from. I’ve never made any bones about my severe dislike for most vampire fiction books and although I might like them if I could just get through the bad sentence structure and the almost angelic romantic views of vampires, I could never really get into the authors’ lack of understanding about the creatures that stalk our dreams and take over our imaginations.

Then I was talking to a friend during my lunch break and he told me he was reading the new Guillermo Del Toro book. I had mentioned I wanted to read it and the next week was given the book. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know it was a vampire story until reading the back of the book but I decided to give it a shot and, hoping for at least an entertaining read, opened the book and began the journey. What I got was perhaps one of the best written, most UN-romanticized, old and yet slightly modernized view of the vampire.

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Review: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck HoganThe Strain
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
William Morrow, 2009

I had planned on finishing Open Your Eyes first but I mentioned that I had The Strain to a friend and was immediately guilted into reading this first so that I can hand it over. The Strain is the first in a trilogy of novels co-authored by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. While I am both familiar and a fan of del Toro’s work, from the woefully underrated Blade II to the masterful and haunting Pan’s Labyrinth, I am not at all familiar with Mr. Hogan.

The Strain begins with a simple story a grandmother tells her grandson about a vampire. The kind of folksy, cautionary tale whose moral involves eating your vegetables and obeying your elders. From there the story shifts to modern day where a Boeing 777 lands at JFK, then immediately falls silent. As the horror is slowly revealed events slowly spiral out of control as vampirism begins to spread quickly across the city of Manhattan. The Strain is a fairly quick read that at 416 pages manages to maintain a razor’s edge like balance between pacing and atmosphere. Unfortunately it walks that same line between originality and familiarity. Though, on the whole, the balance is definitely in favor of originality.
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