Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Night Terrors (Shadow Watch #1) by Tim Waggoner

When Audra was a little girl she spent many a night terrified of a clown.  As phobias go, coulrophobia isn't rare, let alone odd.  What is odd is that one day, the clown who had been haunting Audra's dream for years, suddenly comes to life.  You see in Audra's version of Chicago, some people have the ability to create living beings out of their nightmares.  Audra as it turned out is not a troubled child but an Ideator.  As an adult, Audra works with an agency tasked with policing earth and Nod - the land of the nightmares with Jinx, her nightmare come to life.

Audra and Jinx work well as a team but when Jinx gets kidnapped and a high profile incubus (read: living nightmare) manages to escape custody, Audra knows that despite being pulled off the case, the balance between Nod and Earth is out of balance.  Can Audra find Jinx in time to stop a full incursion of the earth?

I was immediately put off by Night Terrors because it began with a big battle before we were given any idea about the world, or the characters involved.  It's hard to root for the protagonist when you don't know anything about the players involved.  It's always good to hit the ground running; however, since this is the first book in the Shadow Watch series, it felt completely disorienting. From the beginning of the novel the nightmares brought to life were referred to as incubi.  Waggoner put a spin on the incubi mythos but he took quite a bit of time before he explained this leaving me feeling for quite some time that his story didn't make any sense.

Once the world of Night Terrors was explained, I did find it interesting.  The very idea that one's dreams could come to life is actually quite fascinating.  Equally so is the idea that the incubi would have one personality during the day and another at night when they became the living embodiment of the nightmare.  I found Jinx to be a fascinating personality and he was certainly an interesting twist on the terrifying clown.

As fascinating as the concept of Night Terrors is, I found that I couldn't invest in the story let alone get lost in it.  For me, at least part of the problem were the fight scenes.  They seemed to drag on and on. Neither Audra or Jinx seemed to really investigate anything and sort of just lucked into clues and made assumptions that lead to a conclusion.  There is also the issue of the Perry Mason like confession at the end of the novel. The story telling very much let down the concept.

In Audra, we once again have an isolated ass kicking protagonist.  She is filed with spunky agency and never takes time to formulate a plan of action.  Audra charges forward, even when it is detrimental to herself because that is what hard asses do.  She is far more of a walking trope than she is a character.  There are other female characters in this novel and so Night Terrors does pass the Bechdel test; however, while women do interact, I would be hard pressed to say that there are any real relationships.

Night Terrors is another in a long list of highly erased novels.  The sole character of colour is Commander Sanderson and he is essentially promoted to obscurity.  To make matters worse, Jinx and Audra expend quite a deal of time trying to save him.  We also got a bit of appropriation with the following:
"Then again," Russell said, "these are Incubi we're talking about."
"Hey!" Jinx said. "That's racial profiling!" (pg189)
Really? First off, Incubi are imaginary creatures and cannot be racially profiled.  Not only this statement outright appropriation, it belittles the damage done to people of colour who must deal with this on a daily basis.

There are no GLBT characters in this novel.  Erasure is a common aspect of this genre; however, it still remains morally wrong.  It is particularly ridiculous given that Night Terrors is set in Chicago - a large urban area. Unfortunately, I must report that we did have once again, Wagonner did engage in appropriation:
There was another sign, too, one that hung above most businesses. NO VESTIES. Vesties are Incubi who try to look, dress, and act as much like humans as possible. Some even go so far as to have cosmetic surgery with M-enhanced instruments, especially in the case of the more inhuman-appearing Incubi. Vesties – a term that’s a play on transvestite – believe that since humans created them, humans are therefore a superior life form: the exact opposite of what the Lords of Misrule believe. Because of this belief, they try to emulate humans in the hope of becoming more like them. Most Incubi despise vesties, although Jinx doesn’t seem to think anything about them one way or the other.
First, let's start with the fact that Waggoner used the derogatory term "transvestite." A simple trip to GLAAD's media reference guide would have informed Waggoner that this is a slur. Then there is the issue that he seems to conflate transvestism (read: cross dressing) with trans* people by invoking surgical changes. Cross-Dressers are comfortable with who they are and do not wish to change, further changes which do occur in the gender variant community are not based in feelings of inferiority as Waggoner implies.  From start to finish, this passage is extremely problematic and verges on outright transphobia.

Unfortunately, there isn't must to recommend Night Terrors, or much to totally cast it as a terrible book.  It's just plain meh.  There's far too much action for my taste and despite the inventive world, it never feels like Night Terrors goes anywhere. At times it was a struggle not to simply skim the Night Terrors or turn away and do something else.  In short, the writing in Night Terrors let down the concept. I wanted scary, and compelling and what I got was meh.