Population Zero by Wrath James White

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

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.)

The Book of a Thousand Sins by Wrath James White

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Book of a Thousand Sins

Author: Wrath James White

Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, extreme horror

Why I Consider This Book Odd: This book is not odd in the way many of the quirky, weird, off-beat and off-kilter books I review here often are. This book is only odd in that it is of an extreme, and that extreme is horror. This ain’t a book for the squeamish and the extremity of the content is what I think makes it fodder for my odd mill.

Availability: Published by Two Backed Books in 2005, it appears not to be in print any more since the imprint itself is no longer in business. You can, however, still score a copy on Amazon if you don’t mind paying at least twice cover price:

Comments: Wrath James White interests me on a personal level. Admittedly, all I know of him is what he puts online about himself and what he reveals about himself in interviews. He is someone I can see sharing a beer with, and talking religion and philosophy into the wee morning hours. He’s an interesting man with an unusual life arc and based on what I had seen of him and what others writers say about him, I bought blind three of his books. Not unusual for me. Before Richard Laymon died, I knew nothing about him but bought five of his paperbacks I stumbled across in a used bookstore based solely on the covers. I am a bibliophile and the -phile part makes me take chances on the unknown.

So, I had three White books, and one was his collaboration with one of my favorite horror writers, Edward Lee. The book, Teratologist, was possibly the most disappointing book I read in 2008, and I paid an arm and a leg online to get a signed, hardcover copy. I had not read a single review of it when I bought it and likely would have bought it even had I read a few but even so, I did not enjoy it. The book couldn’t even keep the names of the characters straight, sometimes getting the names wrong, as well as misspelling them (“Michael” frequently became “Micheal,” sometimes in the same page). I am a picky reader – every book on the planet has a couple of errors, and I am that snotty reader who generally notices them – but the grammar, spelling and punctuation in Teratologist were egregious to the point of distraction. Problematically, the topic was also a miss for me, a contrived and unlikely attempt to force a confrontation with God via the creation of human monsters using a vile drug that mutates the human sex drive. The grandiose and philosophically questionable nature compelling the book’s plot put me off. I bought my White books in 2008 and after reading Teratologist, I put the others away. I recently discovered them in the back of my nightstand cupboard, pulled them out and decided to give it a go. The Book of a Thousand Sins was strike two.

I always feel odd giving bad reviews on fiction, even when I emphatically think a book is not good. It is one thing for me to pull apart non-fiction books on conspiracy theory and new-age nonsense that asserts the soul of Einstein is on the planet Marduk. It is another to find fault in fiction because all fiction comes from a place of inner experience and not to like fiction is, in a sense, finding fault with the author him or herself, even if that is probably not the best way to look at things.