First of all I want to give a shout-out to Glorious Trash for turning me on to this book. I'd always thought of John Shirley as a science fiction writer from the new school until encountering this punch in the gut. I'd read his City Come A-Walking book a few years ago, found it decent, just nothing to get excited about. No way was I prepared me for Wetbones. Holy Mother of Pearl, this book takes a chainsaw to just about everything sacred in Hollywood.
The story is split between many different points of view. Under a lot of lessor writers, this would bog down the plot. Shirley, on the other hand, is able to use this technique to show different aspects of it. In some ways, he uses this book to slam the entire entertainment industry. If Wetbones has one over-riding theme its how corrupt and damning the entire system is to everyone connected with it.
The cast of characters include:
- Tom Prentice, a screenplay writer who has seen better days.
- Rev. Gamer, a liberal christian minister who helps addicts.
- Gamer's teenage daughter Constance.
- Tom's brother.
- Ephram Pixie, a college professor turned serial killer.
- Orpheus, a street kid from the 'hood.
- Eurydice, his sister.
- The More Man, a sinister enterainment executive.
- An immortal German matriarch
- The Handy Man, a sinister henchman
- An avenging hippie living in a shack
- The Akishra, worm-like psychic vampires who live off human desires.
Of course all of these people are going to end up in the same place: a decrepid mansion near Hollywood called "The Keys", where a degenerate entertainment producer and his equally degenerate wife live. The place is falling apart and guarded by a huge black guy who is paid to look the other direction. Because what lurks inside The Keys is hideous beyond belief: people embedded in rose bushes, couples forced to have sex until they drop dead, people who self-mutilate, and worse. The human allies of the Akishra have developed mind control techniques which allow them to force their will on anyone.
There's even reverse astrology consisting of such constellations as The Hangman, The Black Widow, etc. The serial killer Ephram consults the sky constantly trying to find direction in this sinister zodiac. He's also the main focus of the book's title: Wetbones being an evil ritual which turns people inside out, leaving them in a pile of goo and calcium.
Shirley displays his political bent by turning his nose up at another character's NRA dad and making a not-so-suttle reference to Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior as one of the worm creatures best allies. But his depiction of a ghetto is not the sort of thing which would ever pass for PC. Shirley is disgusted at every facet of Los Angeles in general and Hollywood in particular. The overall theme: This is where hedonism leads.
One of the best books of the "splatterpunk" movement and not to be read on an empty stomach.