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Death's Dominion
Simon Clark
Leisure / Dorchester paperback $6.99

review by Andrew Darlington

Genres slipstream seamlessly into each other. Simon Clark - file under 'horror', has done the temporal-shift time-quake thing with The Fall. While the global super-heating theme behind his King Blood was an SF theme given a horror gloss for marketing purposes, until The Night Of The Triffids crossed over unashamedly into the SF shelves. Death's Dominion is another swirl of definitions. The 'law of the reanimated dead' consciously mimics Isaac Asimov's 'laws of robotics'. While the re-animation of the dead, who are exploited as a worker-drone class - have their origins playfully acknowledged by the 'Dr Frankenstein' epithet. A connection that echoes back to the novel that Brian Aldiss identifies as the progenitor of all SF.

There had been walking corpses in fiction before, imbued with quasi-life by the intervention of spells, incantations and wizardry. Mary Shelley's great innovation was to harness electricity into a proto-technology to do the job. That made it SF, not fantasy, and not horror. That equation would be equally applicable to Simon's book. The society the novel envisages, set in some unspecified run-down near future, draws on a monster-mash of these cross-genre roots for what is only nominally a horror novel. The slave-caste of corpses have been used as robotic servants, until the threat they pose to the living leads to a vicious pogrom of extermination. While the 'laws' forbid the docile dead to retaliate. Until Dominion emerges; and he has no such limitations. He crushes human heads into a "Dali-esque montage" without compunction.

These events are all narrated through an abrupt severance from Simon's fiction-norm, away from the clean likeable protagonists that usually lubricate the readability. This book reads through monster-eyes. All the sympathetic characters - Dr Paul Marais, Elsa, Beech and the rest; already dead, and not exactly loving it. Only small-town flirt Caitlin is alive, but throws in her lot with the ungrateful dead. In another pseudo-SF-connection they replay the old post-apocalypse fables of fugitive mutants hunted down by norms. Pitting the evolving 'god-scarers' who have made the 'transition' to reanimation, versus the vengeful human 'sapheads' responsible for the Lazarus treatment, and who are now determined to erase it. Dominion is an Incredible Hulk with a mission.

A Boris Karloff figure that leads his ragged group of post-death survivors through the landscape of social and economic devastation left in the wake of the program. He even quotes the "we belong dead" line from James Whale's mesmerising 1935 The Bride Of Frankenstein movie to further emphasise its cross-media debts. They reach the fortress of Scaur Ness, and barricade themselves within, where Simon shoves the blasphemous implications yet further by reanimating a priest. The clergyman achieves life after death... but not as he'd understood it. Finally - and to unforgivably leak a plot-shock, in another genre-clash, consider that what if the virtually indestructible dead were being used to colonise the inhospitable terrain of Mars rather than irrigate the Sahara? In which case the SF connection would be even clearer. As it is Dominion is the first of a new breed of post-humans - cerebrally as well as physically, an evolution on the fallible mortals who had gone before. An übermensch with an eight-pound expanded brain, up from the normal human three-pounder.

The trans-human is, naturally, another well-trodden SF trope that takes in Olaf Stapledon's 1935 novel Odd John, Stanley G. Weinbaum's The New Adam (1939), and A.E. Van Vogt's Slan (1940). Elsewhere, Wilson Tucker's Wild Talent (1954), and Charles L. Harness' The Paradox Men (1953) even achieve transcendental metamorphosis through death - or not so much death, as a kind of new improved rebirth. Even if Simon Clark's unlikely 'new Adam' is a walking cadaver, an amalgam pieced together from butchered corpses who "crushed heads in his vast hands as if he crushed soft, ripe peaches."

In different hands, in previous times, this theme would be the "the remaking of the world," the homo-superior machine. As it is, Death's Dominion is not your run-of-the-mill supernatural scary ghost and ghouls stuff. It's far more than that. Clark's gone way beyond cheap thrills. More so than just about any other practitioner of new fiction you'd care to name. What is a Simon Clark constant is the precise detail as events unfold, the meticulously plotted incidents that build together through questions and hints, escalating crises and developing relationships. While playing games with definition where genres slipstream seamlessly into each other, with seemingly effortless ease, if there's a message to be found here, it's poetically phrased as "relishing that fleeting shooting-star existence in a universe of lifeless matter." That's something beyond all limitations.
Death's Dominion

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