Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pulp sci-fi adventures revival!

The Lost Level

By Brian Keene

Publisher: Apex Book Company 

Pub. Date: December 17, 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Brian Keene’s The Lost Level is the first book of a projected series. If you are familiar with the works of Keene then you know him mainly as a writer of visceral horror. His zombie filled Rising trilogy is probably the best known of his books. Yet he will occasionally venture out in to other territories. The Lost Level is one of those other territories. While having its moments of horror it is steeped in an earlier tradition, that of the fantasy/science pulp fiction of the past. Think Edgar Rice Burroughs or Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. Even Sid & Marty Kroft’s TV show Land of the Lost is mentioned by the author as an influence. I will venture out on a limb and suggest that another influence is perhaps Phillip Jose Farmer’s sci-fi epics like The Riverworld Trilogy where an alternate reality is created bringing in various other cultures and people from many places and time yet suggesting that there may be a secret controller of the dimensions. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Aaron Pace is a young but resourceful man who has an interest in the occult. Through his mystical research he discovers something called the Labyrinth, “a dimensional shortcut through time and space. It touches and connects everything”. He explores the various worlds through the Labyrinth with enthusiasm and recklessness. That is until he accidentally enters the Lost Level, “a dimensional reality that existed apart from all the others”. Anything in all of time and space can end up there and there is no escape.

The veteran Keene fan will pick up a theme instantly. The Labryinth Mythos is an integral part of all of Keene’s fiction. Here we learn of the Lost Level but the author is also giving us more subtle hints regarding the mythos’ multiple realities in this series. But if you have never read anything else by Keene this will not ruin this exciting adventure tale for you. The author sets up what he needs to for his story and makes sure it is a thrilling ride.

Aaron Pace is the perfect hero for this tale which does owes the most to Edgar Rice Burroughs. He is daring and capable with just the right amount of naivety and wonder to make him believable, likeable and easy to identify with. The story is told through his perspective as he writes his adventure in an old school notebook he finds on an abandoned bus. Most of his rivals and allies may sound familiar to readers of this type of epic. He borrows from many times, legends, and science fiction warhorses. There is even at least one reference to another Keene novel and I expect there were more that I was not aware of. Stories like this bring out the inner teen in me that thrives on lost worlds, time travel stories, and adventure tales where I can pretend to be the young, muscular hero that manages to slay the monster and win the heart of a buxom, bronze, and half–naked tribe-woman. The nice thing about Keene’s tale though is that it may be derivative but it doesn’t feel like it. There is enough flair and originality to make even the most frequently used creatures in the book fresh and exciting. And the last thing Keene will ever be accused of is not being exciting.

So who is this book for? It is for anyone who enjoy adventure tales, sci-fi and fantasy. It is for those who remember the early “Weird Tales” type pulp fiction and wants to relive it. It is definitely for the Keene fan. And, despite some rather grown up scenes that tells us it is not YA, it is for the mature teenager who is ready to bridge the gap from young adult to mature audience. The Lost Level is a good start to a series that promises to send your mind to lost levels of its own.

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