Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

Following one of the more common routes to becoming a published author, Daryl Gregory, fairly well-known for his short fiction, has just released his first full-length novel, Pandemonium (US, UK, Canada). The world of Pandemonium is a reflection of our own – the difference being that entities known colloquially known as demons inspired by modern pop culture regularly possess people, reeking their own individual havoc in the process.

Possessed as a child by the demon known as the Hellion, Del, now grown, struggles with mental illness and the scars of his past. A car accident resurrects these troubles and Del seeks the comfort of home and a chance to finally rid himself of the affects of the possession that never really left. Thrown into the world of demonology and count-culture world of demon worship, Del wrestles with his identity and the very origins of demon possession.

Pandemonium will appeal to a wide-range of age groups – from the vibrant YA audience all the way through the aging baby-boomer nostalgic for the classic sci-fi and comics of their youth. Through his unique brand of Americana, Gregory explores such varied topics as the treatment of the mentally ill in society, influences of popular culture, and generational clashes of 1950’s-era ideals in the twenty-first century.

Del represents the classic stereotype of the modern young man – a screw-up who can’t hold a job and scrapes by leaning heavily on his family. Del’s foil is his older brother – the ‘good son’ with a successful business and wonderful wife who never moved far away from the family home. The devotion of the brothers to each other, with their at times bitter banter, is one of the touching aspects of Pandemonium. This relatively ideal family behavior is reinforced by the particular pop-culture emphasis of the most visible demons of the story. Strait out of 1950s world, these demons embody the ideals, fears, and mythos a post-World War II America.

Interspersed throughout the narrative are examples of past Demonology that showcase influential demons – the Truth, the Captain, the Little Angel, Smokestack Johnny, the Kamikaze, Boy Marvel, and finally the Hellion. Each shows both a pop-culture alteration of the world and deviation of Gregory’s America from our own – the most interesting and influential deviations being the killing of OJ Simpson in his trial by the vengeful Truth and the assignation of President Eisenhower by the Kamikaze. Other demons make cameo appearances to round out the homage to an earlier age of pop-culture – a ‘monster’ who haunts a rural lake in up-state New York and has become a tourist attraction and a still-living Philip K. Dick, possessed by the demonic sage, Valis. Another classic sci-fi reference of note is a secret society devoted to the extermination of demons founded by fans of A.E. van Vogt.

In many ways, Pandemonium shows us the death of 1950s pop-culture in our twenty-first century world. Or it tells a fun, accessible story of a journey through Americana. Both interpretations are true and Daryl Gregory’s debut entertains at multiple levels and shows a promise for more to come in the future. 7.5/10

Related Posts: Interview with Daryl Gregory

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