The Conqueror Worms by Brian Keene is a novel about the end of the world, told from the perspective an elderly WW2 veteran named Teddy Garnet as he lays waiting for the end to take him. The tale, as you can see from the cover and title, features giant worms coming up from the ground and killing people. That sounds b-movie horror and uber-cheesey, but it’s not as bad as it could be. Yes, it’s a silly concept, this a pure pulp fiction novel through and through, but it’s not as hokey as you’d expect. Keene gives the book a serious edge from the outset by setting up Teddy’s arc of the story as a lonely old man whose lost his wife shortly before an unceasing rain descends upon the Earth.
Teddy spends his time craving a fix for his nicotine, reminiscing about his wife, and speculating on the nature of the monsoon that has swept the entire planet. It’s been months since he’s seen the sun or a day without rain. It has taken it’s toll on him physically and mentally. It’s almost 100 pages before the worms show up, and when they do it is rather creepy, whereas if he had rushed into it, it would have been fodder for a SyFy Channel movie, which would then lead to them making a sequel with giant robot worms fighting dinosaurs or something crazy like that, and i feel I better stop in case a SyFy exec is reading this and decides to actually make something like that into a film (which admittedly, I’d watch the hell out of).
One thing that bothered me about the book is that Teddy suffers from arthritis and is supposedly about to die while writing this manuscript which we are reading down. Given the tangents and insignificant details that the author goes into, and the fact that he seems to be the last man on earth and is about to kick the bucket while in excruciating pain, it’s hard to believe that he would want to spend his last moments alive torturing himself writing something nobody is going to bother to read. I once heard or read something that in fantastical literature you can get away with one far fetched idea but have to ground the rest of the story in reality for the audience to truly accept it. The plot detail about his arthritis should have been scrapped as it is too unreasonable to expect a willful suspension of disbelief. The explanation for the worms seems more plausible in comparison.
Be that as it may, it’s a fun read. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Keene’s other works The Rising or Terminal, but I found it enjoyable enough. I was looking for a fun pulpy read and I found it. Brian Keene is an author whose works I will continue to seek out, and I must say his output is impressive enough to be an inspiration for me to pull my head out of my butt and get to writing some more myself.
For that, I thank him.