The Conqueror Worms by Brian Keene (2005): Brian Keene enjoys ending the world. A lot. And while he’s a very specifically American horror writer, many of his novels fall more comfortably into the disaster-horror sub-genre perfected by writers like Brit James Herbert, with his apocalyptic rats and fogs and crawling dark. Keene’s scenarios tend to involve the supernatural far more than Herbert’s, but their love of squishy, brutal scenes of ultraviolence — and the occasional sex scene — cause me to link them, if only in my own mind.
Keene’s fictional multiverse contains many of his novels, along with a multiplicity of Earths, many of them under siege by the forces of darkness, all of them apparently working for one of several demon-kings exiled from the physical universe(s) eons ago by, I guess, God. Or gods.
It’s a Lovecraftian set-up that touches at points upon real-world mythologies. Earth is under siege, anyway. A lot. And the cause in many of the novels (though not all) is generally hopeless. What the horror novels explore is grace, and the lack thereof, under supernatural pressure: the human heart in conflict with giant monsters, if you will.
In The Conqueror Worms, a seemingly supernatural rain devastates the planet. And it won’t stop. Coastal cities fall to tsunamis; humanity flees to the hills. And then the mountains. And then, entire houses start disappearing into what look like sinkholes, but are not. While land-based humanity comes under siege by increasingly giant, carnivorous worms, sea-based humanity faces sea monsters that seem to have swum right out of mythology.
Keene keeps our sympathy throughout with his narrators — an 80-year-old man whose West Virginia mountain residence has endured 41 days of rain when the novel opens, and a much-younger man and woman who endured the terrrors of flooded Baltimore for several weeks. Along the way, the reader can piece together the probable cause of the apocalypse, but there’s never a moment of epiphanic exposition. This is a worm’s eye view of the end of the world, not one from from the heights (or narrative centre) of understanding.
There’s brutality here, and grandeur, and a lot of WTF? Boy, those worms are cranky. Recommended.