Book: Population Zero
Author: Wrath James White
Type of Book: Fiction, novella, extreme horror
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: The extremity of the horror makes it odd by my calculations.
Availability: Published by Deadite Press in 2010, you can get a copy here:
Comments: For reasons that I have discussed in the past, I have been watching Wrath James White’s writing for a while. I was introduced to him via a collaboration that was so bad it remains in my top ten category for worst books I have ever read (Teratologist was the book, the sort of book wherein the protagonist’s name is spelled three different ways in one paragraph). So I sought out White’s web presence and his well-written, interesting blog did not mesh with the hot mess I had read so I gave him another chance. I next read Book of a Thousand Sins and saw that in some respects, my belief he was a far better writer than Teratologist presented him was justified. There were problems with that story collection, but White got enough right that I was heartened.
Population Zero is pretty much a vindication that my instincts were correct. All the issues that I saw in Book of a Thousand Sins were reconciled. Whereas characters might rant for pages on end in BoaTS, in Population Zero the protagonist’s issues were woven into the plot and showed a character arc. White’s at times baroque writing style was a bit more restrained in this book and his characterization was excellent. The villain in Teratologist embodied Dean Venture when he declared, “I dare you to make less sense!” (Dean also had a terrible problem with his testicles, and the applicability of me telling you this will become clear as you read my discussion.)
There were some small problems in Population Zero that I am going to get out of the way before discussing all that was fabulous. First, the ending left much to be desired and that may just be my feeling on the matter. But the ending felt rushed and given the amount of energy others expended to get the protagonist to the end point, the ending felt wrong. Additionally, as the protagonist goes about his job, he delivers information that become obsolete with the Welfare Reform Act of 1996; tiny little points of social policy that I suspect only I would nitpick because they aren’t too glaring and because they flow well with the story White is telling. There are some small typos, as well. Someone tries to score “heroine” and a character “grinded” his teeth. They’re minor and not that intrusive, but they’re there.
(And it should be mentioned that if you are a social justice warrior, you will not like this book. The protagonist is very unsympathetic to the obese, to the poor trapped on a social treadmill of bad choices, and pregnancy in all forms. The protagonist is also a mentally disturbed, increasingly unhinged killer. In the past, when such a character had very unpleasant ideas, it was called characterization. In some quarters these days, it is a sign of a greater misogyny and class prejudice. I hardly think it so, but I have now given some of my more socially progressive readers clear warning that this book may not be to their tastes.)