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Warrener's Beastie: A Novel Of The Deep
William R. Trotter
Carroll & Graf paperback $17.95

review by Duncan Lawie

Warrener's Beastie is a behemoth. With 686 large pages it weighs in at about 300,000 words - comparable to a volume of Neal Stephenson's Baroque cycle. For the first hundred or so pages, it looks as if Trotter is going to provide Stephenson with stiff competition in both breadth and erudition. This early section introduces Allen Warrener, who inherits his grandfather's fascination with cryptozoology. As he grows up in the Southern States of the USA in the 1950s, he befriends Preston Valentine, a sarcastic fanzine writer. The author has a bit of difficulty fitting Karen Hambly, a poor kid from the Projects, into the plot, as she is a decade or two younger and not intended to meet the other two until they are all adults. However, both she and Warrener experience the unexplained - Karen whilst trapped in a drain pipe in her hometown and Allen in the Arctic wilderness of Finland. His experience is more vivid, more interesting, but lost and forgotten when he falls in love with a young woman on the Faroe Islands.

Again, like Stephenson, having set the story up nicely, Trotter diverges to give us over a hundred pages of social history. Through the late 1960s and 1970s, Warrener and Valentine bounce from Vietnam to New York before Valentine becomes a film director of porn and, later, horror movies. Warrener, having failed to write a great novel, slips into second-class academia whilst Karen becomes a groupie before ending up at the same college. There is no sense of the ineffable here. Instead, this whole section feels rather tired and familiar, which is perhaps the author's intent. He shows his protagonists becoming cynical, damaged people who have lost their youth and, by the mid 1980s, are looking for something to help them believe they are winning their personal war with the world. When an old friend of Warrener's offers to fund an expedition to investigate the Vardinoy Monster in the northern Faroes, they leap at it.

The expedition's crew remain irritable, silly and focused on drink, drugs and sex despite being increasingly obviously in the presence of danger after they reach Vardinoy. Karen starts to experience visions from the creature, but seems unable to explain to the others even as she tells them where to discover a manuscript in a Dark Age ruin. In fact, a nearby island's residents, who attempt to hide all knowledge of the creature in the deeps, cause most of the disasters, which strike the expedition over the next few hundred pages. Eventually, amidst gun battles, sinking ships and rising volcanoes, the 'Beast From Before Time' appears and everyone finds their fates. Some even survive the book - perhaps not those you would expect.

Allen Warrener is a gloriously complex, conflicted and fully realised individual. He is not necessarily likeable, but he is interesting and so are the people around him. One advantage of such a fat book is that the author can lavish pages on the backstory of even very minor characters, making them well rounded, rather than mere 'spear carriers'. Trotter also dedicates reams to telling and re-telling the origin story of the monster, providing multiple versions from different perspectives and asking the reader to overlay them all. This would be a very clever technique if there were any evidence the author had a clear idea himself of what the monster was. Instead its behaviour is described in obviously conflicting ways and the pseudo-science behind it is so incoherent as to be laughable (see Thog's masterclass in Ansible #231). Other aspects don't quite add up either - Trotter doesn't quite seem able to decide just what the age difference is between Allen and Karen and he has probable anachronisms such as computer enhanced photos and cell-phones in the early 1980s, too. These are minor confusions, and the best thing to do as a reader is to gloss over them in the same way the writer has. However, it is this inattention, which causes Trotter to fall away from Stephenson's standard. As a result, you can't quite read Trotter as science fiction, but both Trotter, and Stephenson's Baroque cycle could be considered part of a genre of huge, rambling adventure tales. As a 'Great American Novel', where character is the key, this book works extremely well. If you are in the mood for a huge tall story in an amiable, easy-going style, Warrener's Beastie is a pleasant way to pass a good few hours.
Warrener's Beastie

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