20 May 2011

They Make Books on Paper, Now?! Impressions of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter

I don't read many books around here. Maybe it's my generation raised on a thousand television channels and then introduced to the unlimited shores of knowledge and internet everywhere but I don't pick up anything with a cover that often. Generally after reading a book anyway I retain about as much information as I would with a recent skim on its Wikipedia page.

On this note there aren't a whole ton of legendary authors or world-changing novels out there. We lack a Hemingway or a Steinbeck or a Shaw. This may also be attributed to a generation more concerned with Twitter than sitting down through an entire book. It's a flash-memory, instant gratification society, to which books deliver neither. I'm clearly no better, I respond much better upon visual stimuli rather than verbal input. To my credit though, over the past seven years I have managed to complete the following books all on my own:

Earth: The Book by the Daily Show
Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien
Why We Suck by Dr. Denis Leary
The Alphabet of Manliness by Maddox
Silent Bob Speaks by Kevin Smith

Impressive, I know. But I did manage to race through a book very speedily recently and it was super-awesome so I felt compelled to respond here. I speak of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. The most interesting thing about this book lies beyond the obvious knee-jerk reaction upon hearing the premise and how good this thing really is. It should remain a staple of the Mashup Literary Genre.

This is a strange genre. It almost seems too easy to do but when authors pull off the intricacies involved it becomes a fulfilling means of injecting humour and modern attitudes (probably post-modern attitudes is more apt) into stuffy literature that has been so overdone to become the originator of many tropes today. As the Mashup exposes the tropes and folds them over upon the tropes of a drastically conflicting genre we gain immense reflection concerning the nature of storytelling. Awesome.

The genre began with a simple idea from Seth Grahame-Smith himself, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It works from the jarring title alone, there's an immediate interest spike from both Jane Austen fans and Zombie fans. Those are two crowds who should never mingle with each other. Actually they should mingle all the time, the results would be spectacular. Following this were tons of imitators but none were really that exceptional. Until Grahame-Smith returned with Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter.

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter is actually equal parts biography and fiction. It succeeds because of how much Grahame-Smith plays it straight. It doesn't deviate from the character of our 16th President, who was often melancholic with a hard, frontier attitude. Simply put, the book presents Abe following his life but whenever there's a little discrepancy or room in the record, Grahame-Smith throws in a Vampire Hunt. His mama died strangely when Abe was 9 years old, eh? Vampire. Abe mysteriously broke off relations with Mary Todd right before they were first to be wed? Vampire. This sounds worse as I'm writing it as it really is - there is enough background and development that the vampires eventually appear to be a constant threat to Lincoln's happiness and also tie themselves inexorably with the cause of the South and Slavery, which just fits perfect.

The book deftly presents itself as part-Secret Diary, part-Primary document and the remaining account reads not of sarcasm or snarky reluctance but as a genuine historical account. It's no different in structure or even tone and theme from a normal Lincoln biography. The only fantastic elements are the vampires and they fit in surprisingly well. It's the true sign of a master of the Mashup craft that it is not a random collision of genres. The Vampire Hunts are well thought out and integrated into a very accurate chronicle of Lincoln's life.

Anyway, I'll admit that I didn't like the ending. Since it's tougher to read a book than watch a movie I won't actually give it away here like I usually do on these things. If a movie has been out a few days you should have gone to see it already. If a book has been out a few years, well that's understandable you need some time to get through that sucker.

So that's it. This is a very well written tome and I hope that this genre works in this vein more often than a simplistic pasting of something ridiculous onto something chaste. That doesn't really work. The careful integration, clear historical research and flawless presentation makes the gore and insanity within all the more acceptable as fake true fact.

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