Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Speck by L. Marshall James

book cover for SpeckA dark speck slips from dormancy, where it has been trapped for millennia. It is utterly alien, singularly enthralling, and devastatingly lethal. What follows in its wake are chaos and death.

There will be no escape.

The opening strikes me as a mashup of the first third of King's Dreamcatcher (the good part) and an incident that took place near the end of Koontz's Watchers. James offers us a lovely picture of an idyllic natural setting and then unleashes his "speck" upon a hapless marmot. The speck has the ability to control minds in close proximity through suggestion at the most primal level. As the speck grows in size, it gains strength and sophistication. Things spiral out of control, leaving the reader to hope that someone can get the speck under control before its destruction reaches catastrophic proportions.

The story starts with a universal omniscient narrator but switches to third person subjective once humans get involved in the story. The narrative is relayed through several characters, primarily those that encounter the speck. Characters are only given a chapter to carry the narrative, but James has them make the most of it. I never got the impression that these were disposable characters. Although their appearance on stage is brief, James invests the time in each to develop them. If the book had been a novel instead of a novella, I don't see any reason why the characters wouldn't be able to carry the story further.

But the length of the story is also something of a negative. The story reaches a point where the reader says, "Oh crap! What now?" The fast pace of the story comes to an abrupt halt. The ending comes as a bit of unsatisfying diabolus ex machina, which is followed by an epilogue that struck me as an outline for how the story could've carried on from novella to novel. I feel like the author hit a wall and either couldn't think of a way to continue or didn't want to (hence the epilogue).

Although only a novella, Speck demonstrates an author with a talent for creating believable characters, setting a good narrative pace, and establishing a realistic setting. He understands King's idiom that "bad things happen to good people" and handles it well. As James continues to develop his craft, I have no doubt that his potential will be realized.

For more information about Speck, please visit Goodreads.

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