V. Brock. “Milton’s Children.” Bad Moon Books, 2012.
don’t know whether Jason Brock wears a hat or not. But if he does, he must have
been kept busy tipping it while writing his singularly effective novella,
story begins, perhaps a bit oddly, with a question: “Why are you a vegetarian,
Carter?” This relatively non-horrific question introduces both a primary
character, Adam Carter (the name is highly suggestive, given the novella’s
title and the headnote from John Milton’s Paradise
Lost), and a key issue…although for several pages the ensuing dialogue
between Carter and his equally suggestively named antagonist, Chris Faust (c.f. Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus, another Renaissance
disquisition on pride, sin, forgiveness, and hell) seems more a one-sided rant
than the introduction to a short story.
two characters cover a number of issues, although Faust is more often than not limited
to a few words or sputtered phrases while Carter is given full play for his
arguments, which include the possibility of animal communication before
broadening to incorporate pollution, global warming, overuse of antibiotics and
chemicals, and a range of additional appalling side-effects of human arrogance.
Finally, Carter asks his own question, “I mean, where does ‘evil’ begin to
enter into the picture, Faust?”
a brief hiatus for some necessary backstory, the tale reaches a transition
point and moderates into what is essentially a finely crafted throwback to the
Golden Age of Creature Features. One of the crew has discovered a mysterious, unknown
island, revealed only when global warming causes the Antarctic floes to recede.
Perhaps never trodden on by humans, the island offers a temptation none can
resist. They must explore it.
impression the landing crew receives is of an Antarctic Garden of Eden…but as
with all great Creature Features, first impressions prove woefully,
disastrously, horrifically and bloodily wrong.
the deaths begin.
addition to those already mentioned, Brock incorporates layer upon layer of
allusion to strengthen his modest tale. Several are referred to by name: Jonathan
Swift and A Modest Proposal; Mary Shelley
and Frankenstein (with its insistence
on Paradise Lost as a proof text for
the creature’s moral inquiries); H.P. Lovecraft and At the Mountains of Madness; Skull Island and the various film
versions of King Kong. Others seem
more incidental, although still powerful: E.R. Burroughs’ Pellucidar series
(one of Brock’s characters is Darrell Mahar). The captain of the rescue ship in
the final chapters is Commander Merritt (c.f. A. Merritt?) and the Communications
Officer is surnamed ‘Adams,’ underscoring at least two major themes in “Milton’s
one intriguing echo—which I can’t lay this on Brock, of course, since I don’t
know what films he has watched—by the end of his story there are a number of key
resemblances in “Milton’s Children” to one of my favorite ’50s pieces, Roger
Corman’s The Attack of the Crab Monsters.)
all of these disparate threads together is the introductory note, Satan’s
speech as he surveys the newly created Earth (Paradise Lost, Book IX, ll. 135-139) and brags of the destruction
is he about to wreak on it and on unsuspecting humanity. Although it is clear from
the poem as a whole that Satan is here being self-delusive and that the Father
has in fact planned all that occurs, his words remain powerful. Like others
alluded to in “Milton’s Children”—Milton’s Adam, Marlowe’s Faust, Frankenstein,
Lovecraft’s multifold meddlers in Cosmic affairs, generations of fictional explorers invading unknown
landscapes where they have no right to be—Satan is about to assert dominion over
that which is not his…and pay the ultimate consequences.
total, “Milton’s Children” is fascinating. It blends elements that seem on the
surface antithetical. It encourages reminiscence even as it suggests
far-reaching, futuristic possibilities. It combines an elegant command of
language with a relatively fundamental but thoroughly enjoyable plot. It
incorporates clichéd characters and situations in ways that bring them new
life. It manages to tip its hat to perhaps a score of equally intriguing sources while maintaining its own integrity as a narrative. And all within the confines of fewer than seventy pages.
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