So I once again feel the need to convince myself that I’m not just yet another hobby blogger spewing random opinions out into cyberspace. And thus, another pithily-named recurring segment that will probably never recur. I present to you: So Bad I Couldn’t Finish It, a (possible) review series in which I vomit bile all over a movie or book or videogame that was so truly awful that I couldn’t sit through the whole thing.
I’m an avid reader, and I don’t like the feeling of putting a book down unfinished. I plowed through Gerald Edelman’s dense and almost unreadable neurology book Wider Than The Sky back when I was a high school student with a laughable attention span. So, it says something about Edward Lee’s novel Slither that I just couldn’t force myself to finish it.
The novel’s plot runs something like this: a pair of scientists is sent to a tiny island off the coast of Florida to gather samples and escort a ditzy photographer from National Geographic. The island houses an “abandoned” military installation, so the group has a military escort. After a while, they discover some very odd things: giant trichinoid worms, reproductive cells that should be microscopic but are the size of ladybugs, and a profusion of weird cameras and equipment. Some pot farmers have been using abandoned missile sheds as grow-houses, and they get chucked into the action.
The thing is, I’m not sure what that action is, because, although the plot is complex and well-thought-out, the writing is so dry and lifeless that I couldn’t make it to the climax.
I say “climax” for a reason, because Slither is dripping with what I can only assume is sexual frustration. Nora, one of the scientists, is a thirty-year-old virgin who spends an anomalous fraction of her time being jealous of the National Geographic woman’s good looks. There are a couple of sex scenes, but those are far outweighed by scenes of people talking about sex and thinking about sex and admiring or despising their perfect or hideous bodies, respectively. The aforementioned trichinoid worms take a strange interest in female genitalia, but I’ll hand that one off to Dr. Freud.
Oversexedness aside, Slither is simply a lousy read. Edward Lee has the same problem Richard Preston did when writing his novel The Cobra Event: the technical bits overwhelm the narrative. But Richard Preston has two distinct advantages over Edward Lee: one, he’s made his career writing about technical subjects, and so has developed a talent for it; and two, he actually knows what he’s talking about. Lee, on the other hand, seems more or less to be making shit up. And even if he’s not, the execution is so horrendous that it doesn’t matter. I cannot imagine any normal person who would throw technical jargon into idle chit-chat; or worse than that, in the case of one male character, act like a complete geek one moment and then like a stud the next.
Of course, somebody will no doubt argue that, since I didn’t read the book all the way to the end that I have no right to comlain about nonsensical plot points. To that I respond: yes I do. I’m a fan of Stephen King, so obviously, I don’t have a problem waiting for nonsnesical plot points to be resolved. The difference between Stephen King and Edward Lee, though, is that Stephen King is a good writer, while Edward Lee reads like a hybrid between a fourth-grade science book, a pulp novel, and a sexually-frustrated twentysomething’s lurid, sweaty fantasy. Slither’s few virtues–well-thought-out plot, mildly interesting characters, semi-inventive ideas–are simply not enough to compensate for its insipidness and its dry, uninspiring prose.