American Werewolf in Peril

FA Red Moon

I’m happy to recommend that you read Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon — but, well… I’ll get to that.

Red Moon is a smart variation on the theme, extremely popular of late, of bringing childhood heroes and monsters into adult life. Rather than a gritty Batman wrestling with the morality of vigilante justice, or emo vampires wrestling with awful dialogue, we have werewolves, and the many ways that their existence would spread turmoil in normal civic dynamics. 

The werewolves, or lycans, are humans who have been infected with a prion disease called Lobos. Prions cause actual conditions like Mad Cow, and something terrifyingly named “Fatal familial insomnia” in humans. Lobos can be transmitted sexually, or through blood — most often the result of a bite, since lycans’ gums bleed during their transformation.

We’re not so much dealing in fantasy here, where something unreal — ancient races of vampires, fairy tale creatures inhabiting a small town, a hunky hammer wielding demigod from Asgard, etc —  forces us to reassess the reality we’ve always known. Red Moon is closer in genre to a dystopian near future, where a slight change in course is drawn out to its logical and mostly unpleasant conclusions. You are able to feel the tension of inhabiting a world where perfectly nice people, infected with a disease, might suddenly transform into killing machines. Or worse, where some very not nice people might do the same thing.

And what tension there is. The book opens with a scene that resembles September 11, the first of many elements of Red Moon that pull from a broad swath of unfortunately recognizable issues. Most lycans live peacefully in society, but some resort to radical violence. They must register with the government, and are forced to take a medication called Volpex, which inhibits transformation but has unpleasant side effects. A hardcore group of skinheads called “The Americans” wants to eradicate lycans. A hardcore group of lycans wants to eradicate and/or infect humans. The latest flash point is the US military’s questionable “peacekeeping” mission in the Lupine Republic, a small section of Scandinavia that also happens to be rich in energy-producing uranium.

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Give me… a keg… of equal rights and dignity.

While Percy is deft with his science and politics, he is less effective with his people and plotting. The crooked politician; the creepy lycan terrorist leader; the strange government figure known only as The Tall Man — these are characters, echoes of familiar figures, and they play the roles you expect them to play. At the center of the story are the star-crossed lovers Patrick and Claire. Patrick starts as an angsty teen, and stays that way, with chip-on-his-shoulder sentiments more appropriate for getting grounded than surviving a terrorist attack, facing radiation poisoning, or learning that someone he cares about is a werewolf. Claire has more depth and complexity, in both the events in her life and her responses to them, largely because Percy does sad better than angry. But at very few points does the human(/lycan) drama follow the overall premise in transcending genre fiction boundaries.

It’s a forgivable offense. And so, I’m happy to recommend that you read this book.

But, what you really should do is listen to it on audiobook. The novel is read by the author, whose sinister baritone is one of the best voices in horror since Vincent Price. You don’t have to take my word for it — I leave you with Percy’s reading of the children’s story Goodnight Moon, which features no one being ripped apart by a lycan, but seems like it might at some point during his reading:

FA GM

– Michael Moats

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