Ginger Nuts of Horror
By Tony Jones
The end of the world begins with a hand-lotion….
We hope you’ve had the chance to read our recent accompanying Dan Wells interview. The interview mostly covers Dan’s debut cult novel “I Am Not a Serial Killer” (2009) and the super-cool 2016 film of the same name which has attracted rave reviews, recently arriving in the UK cinemas. So now we turn to Dan’s latest novel “Extreme Makeover” which was released by Tor in the USA in November.
As a long term fan of Dan Wells, I was looking forward to reading his latest offering, which was aimed at the adult market rather the YA audience his books are typically targeted at in the UK. Interestingly, in the end notes of “Extreme Makeover,” Dan comments that he had stop-started on this novel for many years while working on numerous other projects before eventually completed after much coaxing from his agent. I’m pleased to say it was well worth the effort, ‘pet-projects’ are often very different from an author’s normal literary output and “Extreme Makeover” certainly fits into that ‘something different’ category. It’s probably more thriller than horror, with a surgical implant of black comedy which revolves around a unique apocalypse.
This highly entertaining mix of science fiction, speculative fiction and satirical comedy opens with a count-down which decreases with every chapter, opening with ‘267 Days to the End of the World’. How the world is going to end you have no idea, but I can guarantee our little planet has never been completely shafted as it is in “Extreme Makeover”. Part of the fun is the journey, most of it undertaken with Lyle Fontenelle, who although is a very nice and likeable guy (one of the few in the book), is the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse all rolled into one. Accidently, of course…..
Some of the novel satires the consumer society we live in, particularly the need to look beautiful, young, or have something similar to plastic surgery so radical it can create new identifies. So how does this happen? Lyle is a scientist who works for NewYew which specialises in beauty products, and he is pretty good at what he does. He accidently invents what he believes could be an amazingly successful anti-aging hand lotion cream. His bosses realise he has hit the jackpot as the lotion which could make them billions. In their lust for cash, they deliberately decide to forget about government laws on the testing of the cream and push forward with a massive launch. Meantime a rival company steals their lotion. Greed is one of the main themes of the book, and many of the disasters which follow are because of it.
However, as things begin to spiral out of control Lyle and NewYew, by a comedy of errors again realise, that the lotion is way stronger than they thought and can rewrite the human genetic code. The problem is as it was recreated accidently, nobody can recreate the experiment successfully including Lyle or the thieves from the rival company. Sensing, even more, money in the offing NewYew push the new product forward, now called ReBirth and the public start using this completely untested product in all sorts of horrible ways and we spiral towards the apocalypse. I won’t say any more about how it happens except that NewYew were blindsided completely by their greed….
I laughed quite a bit over the course of this 400-page novel. Lyle was a great character and no matter what he did nothing worked out for him. He was a real patsy. The novel danced a very fine line between thriller and comedy, which for the most part it pulled off pretty well. There were all sorts of very selfish and unlikeable characters thrown into the mix and even as things got bleaker and darker all they saw were the dollar signs. As the plot lurched into the final third, the reader had to forget the ridiculousness of it all, shake their head, and continue reading. It was really, really stupid, but much of the best satire is exactly that, as it led into areas of human cloning and beauty products being used as weapons.
The countdown from ‘267 days’ to ‘The End of the World’ worked pretty well. At various times it makes some significant shifts downwards and often the latest disasters are revealed the last surviving members of the United Nations or the horrific consequences such as the concentration camps. Along the way, there are some great support characters, Susan, who Lyle secretly lusted after was top notch, as was a new age scumbag known as ‘The Guru’.
The novel doesn’t overdo on the science and keeps the technology vague and so we never really get bogged down in the technicalities of how ReBirth works. However, it’s slightly unfortunate that the majority of the characters were so very unlikeable, but then again we do still have Lyle to root for. This is an elegant change of pace for an author who has written some top quality horror and fantasy novels and it is well worth a punt to the reader who wants to discover how a hand lotion can end the world. And what a journey.
Read our exclusive interview with dan wells here