Brian Keene’s “Earthworm Gods”

I haven’t blogged about horror fiction for a while — work, travel and holidays have conspired against me!  This post is an attempt to catch up.

A few years ago, I had a plan to do a blog post surveying weird fiction books about the apocalypse.  After some initial research, I put the project on hold for a while, because apocalyptic fiction has a long, long, long history!  For instance, in 1826 Mary “Frankenstein” Shelley wrote a novel The Last Man, describing the end of humanity due to a devastating plague — and this is not the earliest novel about the end of the world, by far!

Though I didn’t write the post (yet), I did explore and read quite a number of books that looked at “The End”; one of those that caught my eye was Brian Keene’s The Conqueror Worms:

I have to admit, I expected something rather schlocky when I read the title of the book: it reminded me of many of the cheesy “creature feature” novels I read as a high school student, in which two-dimensional, indistinguishable characters get knocked off one by one by some sort of really absurd monster. (Cough cough Killer Crabs cough cough!)

What I got instead, was a book far more thoughtful — and with much more depth than I expected!  It turns out the title was quite misleading as to the tone of the book: Keene’s preferred title is Earthworm Gods, which was changed by the Dorchester Publishing Company for the first paperback edition.

Since then, Keene has had a falling out with Dorchester, and the book is scheduled to be rereleased (under Earthworm Gods) sometime in the near future by Deadite Press.  In light of this, I thought it would be an appropriate time to say a few words about Earthworm Gods

Suppose it started raining one day, everywhere in the world, and it never stopped?  Would the water levels rise, and keep rising, drowning the coasts, the major cities, until only mountaintops remained unsubmerged?  If you’re like me, you would probably think that such a scenario is scientifically impossible — but Brian Keene is clever, and there’s more going on than at first seems.

The novel opens under the narration of Teddy Garnett, a veteran of World War II and a resident of a mountainous area of West Virginia.  He describes the global deluge, and the horror that followed: earthworms of increasingly monstrous size that burrow easily through the rain-soaked ground and are ready to consume and destroy all: houses, cars, people.  The grim struggle for survival by Teddy and his friend Carl comprise the first half of the book.  In the second half of the book, a pair of survivors from Baltimore arrive, and their story gives a partial explanation for the incessant rain and explores the depths of human depravity and desperation.  At last, the novel concludes with a grim showdown between the survivors and the forces of darkness on a lonely rain-drenched mountaintop.

A number of things jumped out at me while reading this novel.  First, I really, really appreciated the choice of such an atypical protagonist as Teddy Garnett.  As I noted, the “creature features” I read when I was younger had readily forgettable characters, but Teddy has stuck with me ever since reading the novel.  Second, I really liked the sharp turn the book took in the second half with the arrival of the Baltimore survivors.  The story takes on a completely different, and interesting, tone at that point.  Finally, I should note that Keene manages to make the idea of giant killer earthworms work — the idea could easily have come across as ridiculous.

I would recommend Earthworm Gods to anyone who is interested in a rather offbeat (though not silly) take on the idea of global armageddon — I’ll write a follow-up post when I see that it has been rereleased!  I should note that Keene has also written a sequel to Earthworm Gods, titled Deluge, that he wrote in serial form on his blog over the past couple of years during the economic downturn.  It will also be released in complete print and electronic form later this year.  I haven’t had a chance to go through the serial, but I will certainly read Deluge when it is printed — and I’ll also be catching up on some of Keene’s other work, as well!

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