Half/Life Chronicles, Book One
Christopher Csejthe awakens in the morgue after a deadly encounter with a semi and a serious case of “lost time.” An increased sensitivity to sunlight and a decreased appetite are the least of his worries. Things-that-go-Bump-in-the-Night are hunting him. And not just vampires. An ancient Egyptian necromancer has reanimated his dead wife and daughter to draw him into a trap for the unique properties that his blood may bestow…
“One of the best novels I’ve read for years, a thoroughly amusing and interesting new slant on vampires, that stands comparison with Nancy Collins’ In the Blood of a few years back…You’ve got to read this, it is a hoot…”
–The British Fantasy Society Newsletter
“…vaguely reminiscent of the Worlds of Darkness series, though with touches of humor and a somewhat more interesting background.”
–Science Fiction Chronicle
You’re a vampire down on your luck? Not to worry; a clan or an enclave somewhere is bound to take you in. You’re a human with the hosts of the undead on your tail? No problem; vampire hunters are sure to turn up and spring to your defense. But suppose you’re halfway between, caught on the twilight border of life and un-death? If that’s the case, then best look out, because neither the powers of the living nor the dead will rest until you’re permanently out of their way.
It’s good to see Wm. Mark Simmons writing again, and One Foot In The Grave is as energetic an adventure as his earlier works. Being half-alive and half-vampire is just the beginning of Chris Csejthe’s problems. At least two different sets of vampires are out for his blood, he’s in demand both as scientific anomaly and sex object, and it’s beginning to look as if the deaths a year ago of his wife and child are somehow tied to his current predicament. In order to find out for sure, though, Chris must first survive the machinations of two of the deadliest supernatural foes in all history.
As usual, Simmons rarely lets the pace drop below a brisk gallop. There are chase scenes and firefights in ample supply, into which Simmons drops an ingenious working out of vampiric powers and vulnerabilities that pays homage to all manner of classic monster lore, including no few grand old B-movies (and not necessarily the ones you’d expect). The plot unfolds like an origami sculpture designed by M.C. Escher, but the cast is a mix of seemingly normal folks crossed with every movie-genre subculture you can think of.
A definite air of the mischievous runs through much of the logic, supernatural and otherwise, and the sheer variety of beings and creatures encountered suggests an amiable tip of the satirist’s hat to White Wolf’s Worlds of Darkness* game milieu. But though Simmons maintains a hint of wryness to the tale throughout, he never lets the humor get out of control and take over the story, Bureau 13-fashion. Chris and his sometimes unlikely, often reluctant allies aren’t caricatures; they are, for the most part, complex characters whose motives and goals Simmons develops with startling insight and compassion. Chris in particular is a memorable, unusual protagonist, neither bent on saving the world nor so self-centered as merely to ignore the chaos flowing in his wake.
One result of the expert juggling is that the novel’s multi-twist ending should genuinely surprise many if not most readers. One Foot in the Grave owes debts to a variety of formula fiction, but its climax and resolution follow no logic but their own. For a further wonder, it looks to be entirely self-contained–while there’s theoretically room for a sequel, there’s a sense of finality to the conclusion that is all too often missing from this sort of book. Readers have good reason to thank Baen Books for luring Wm. Mark Simmons out of the literary woodwork, and the should hope that his next novel doesn’t take as long to appear as this one has.
–John C. Bunnell, from The Role of Books