A year ago, as Executive Producer Brad was preparing to head off to London for a convention appearance, I warned him to be careful: “I don’t know whether or not they’ve sorted out that whole zombie situation.”.
“Zombie situation?”he asked.
“Yeah,”I said. “Like in that documentary – 28 Days Later.”
The gang at work were fairly insistent that 28 Days Later was NOT, in fact, a documentary and, while that may be debatable, it’s certainly beside the point. I still hold that one of the most unsettling aspects of the movie was not the zombie horde but the city of London itself. Bleak, cold, and ominous – it incited a terror in me akin to what I used to experience as a young boy sitting on my grandmother’s couch watching the black and white opening credits to Coronation Street.
That self-same grimness and sense of overwhelming trepidation pervades the London of Conrad Williams’ The Unblemished, a novel that transforms the city from familiar backdrop to active, albeit unwilling, player in a circus of bloodletting and grisly horror. It’s just one of the many disquieting elements that raise this book well above similar offerings of the genre.
That said, The Unblemished is, at times, very difficult to read. Not because it’s bad, mind you, but just the opposite. Author Williams is very good at what he does, painting a luridly vivid picture of the mayhem and madness that runs throughout. His narrative style is almost poetic, striking in its ability to captivate in spite of the gruesome subject matter. It’s the literary equivalent of coming across a terrible accident and not being able to look away. Williams draws you in and, once he has you, refuses to let go, whisking the reader along on a terrifying ride through a novel that proves as lyrical and beguiling as it does disconcerting and, quite frankly, off-putting. It’s in-your-face horror of the most visceral sort and the squeamish should steer well clear.
The novel opens with a distrubing attack on a young couple, then proceeds to jump back and forth between various characters – a musician burdened with a cursed ability following a chance encounter with some mysterious stranger, a mother and catatonic daughter on the run from a sadistic thug, an aged serial killer intent on attaining malevolent heights – amid the gruesome incursion of a race of creatures, banished five centuries ago, who have returned to exact a terrible revenge.
And somewhat terribly sloppy revenge at that given they often fail to fully dispatch of their victims, leading to all sorts of nasty consequences for those targeted. It’s mighty grisly stuff and yet, despite the copious bloodletting, I never found it excessive (EXCEPT in the case of hitman Manser and his particular fetish that I felt crossed the line). While it was tough to connect with any of the characters – two sadistic murderers, an unresponsive Claire, a losing-his-grip-on-his-sanity Bo who was a pretty odd bird to begin with, and Sarah whose single-minded concern for her daughter’s safety elicits an initial sympathy that gradually gives way to frustration and disbelief – they were all well-drawn and author Williams does a bang-up job of tracking their respective emotional and psychological descents.
In the past, when I’ve selected horror novels for our little Book of the Month Club and had some respond to the effect of “I don‘t read horror.”, I’ve often dismissed them as unusually sensitive. Well, halfway through The Unblemished, I found myself hoping that some of those same readers didn’t attempt the foray this month. It’s a dark and disturbingly relentless journey of unparalleled intensity. Surreal. Nightmarish. And, when all is said and done, scary as hell.
So, those are my initial thoughts. Would love to hear from those who tested the dark waters. What did you think? And if you have questions for author Conrad Williams, start posting!
PG15 writes: “ 1. Is the freelancer-written episode, episode 14?
2. Let me bring out this old chestnut again, from March 16th:
Brad then pytched out hys revysed notion for an ydea he’s been battyng around for a whyle now. A great premyse wyth an yntryguing mystery at yts core, a wonderful opportunyty for one of our characters, all wrapped up in a an ultymately touchyng theme.
Is this the episode that you referenced when you said today that “Carl will move from Faith to that story Brad pitched out“?
3. Who’s writing the thrilling Season finale?”
Answers: 1. 13 and 14.
3. Either Brad or Robert.
and Life is at 9, Justice 10 and so on. Is that article up the creek?”
Answer: Nope. I am.
Nadine writes: “How are the dogs doing? I saw that pic of Maximus (so cute!) – they’re all doing well? Jelly’s endocarditis is under control? Is she on meds for it?”
Answer: All the dogs are great. Hope Bella is on her way to a full recovery.
Ava writes: “btw. it was Maximus on the twitter pic ? That smiley face is a t-shirt material. It made my day”
Answer: Yep, that was Maximus yukking it up.
Mirjam writes: “I can’t believe you read EVERY comment EVERY day. Do you? Well, I guess whether or not you will answer this question answers THAT question.”
Answer: Yes, every comment. Except this one.
45 thoughts on “June 1, 2009: The Unblemished, by Conrad Williams”
Just got finished readin Jasper FFordes Big Over Easy (I know im late to the party!!!!but hey Readin Taekwondo Theory can be fun too right???) and i thought it was hilarious!! kinda like CSI:Nursery Rhyme (hahaha that does rhyme!) have you read any other of his books?? I now have ‘the Eyre Affair’ and ‘Lost in a Good Book’ to tide me over
Hope all is well with the dogs!!!
And now i have the Coronation Street theme song in my head!
Thank you again for answering my questions! I had forgotten that Faith was actually Freelance-written and Carl is just doing his…pass, on it. See? I’m learning!
Even more questions:
1. Did the same freelancer write Faith and #14, or were they written by different people?
2. Will you be able to tell us the Freelancer’s names eventually?
3. Any ideas on when more promotional stuff is coming out? Besides this blog, things have been pretty quiet on the SGU front.
4. Some over at Gateworld have been wondering on the action-quota of SGU, since it’s more character-focused. What can you say about the quantity (i.e. are there as many action scenes as in the past?) and quality (are they done differently than in the past?) of the action scenes in SGU?
Sensitive huh? SENSITIVE?!! I’ll show you sensitive. I’m going to go away and sulk now. Hmph.
Of all the cool props and gadgets, as well as seriously hot costumes from the past decade and a half of Stargate, would you personally like to have in your home or to wear? Same question to Paul M and Carl.
Joe – two things…
1. How are you liking Y – The Last Man and Scalped??
2. Wasn’t there links to other sites/blogs over on the right side? Where did they go?
Crazy busy lately, especially today – but I did get to read a little Elric, straighten up the house, pay all the monthly bills, run to the bank and grocery store, cook dinner, AND bake cookies! Yes, I am a domestic Goddess. 😀
Now…excuse me while I drag my weary ol’ self over into this corner here, and die. 😛
Have a good evening, Joe!
*waves to fellow Mallozziblogians* Have a great one, folks!
Is there a style of filming that the Stargate series has? What I mean is that there are always different directors making the different episodes, so do they have to be told what they can and can’t do with the episode? If so, what are the sort of limitations… Can you explain the process a little?
Not for the squeamish is right! I’ve enjoyed the works of Stephen King and Clive Barker and there are definite echoes of both these fine authors in this book, but nonetheless The Unblemished stands far apart and on its own as unique example of contemporary horror. Some questions for Mr. Conrad:
1. Be honest now, how hard was it to get this book published. I loved it but I can see faint-hearted publishers heading for the hills after the prologue.
2. I read somewhere that your writing is influenced by horror from the 80’s. Do you mean film or literature? And, either or, could you provide us with a listing of some of your favorites.
3. Finally, I’d like to know What scares you?
thanks for answering my question.
I’m from germany und here season 5 of stargate atlantis was not broadcast yet. So I really looking forward to watch it.
Some more questions:
1. Can you please explain the relationship between Teyla and John? Are they “Almost lovers”, or like brother and sister or is there only a team- relation?
2. Have you ever visit germany?
Are you able to find out the progress of the Stargate Worlds game, and any prospective release/beta dates? The last we heard officially was that ‘the lights are still on’, but they have been in media blackout for some time now and hopes/community is/are waning.
I’m not unusually sensitive. I just don’t read horror because it gives me nightmares at night. And my mom gets really annoyed if I call her up at 11pm to drive over to my house to check and see if there are monsters under my bed or in my closet.
Jeremy hates it when I do that, too.
Also I get so incredibly jumpy that any sudden movement makes me scream like a girl.
Or do you mean *unusually sensitive* as in the *I can see dead people* definition?
That’s not true for me. *looks around* Yeah… I’m pretty sure I don’t see dead people.
I have seen parts of the movie *Showgirls*, though. And really, is there ANYTHING scarier than that piece of trash?
p.s. @Chevron 7 I gushed about the X-files on yesterday’s blog. 😀
@Nadine: How’s Bella? And also, you’ll wanna check out my X-files gushing from yesterday. You and I have similar senses of humor, I think.
Well, pretty darn glad I passed on this month’s selection then!
Okie dokie – there’s the links! They had disappeared, right?? Or was I just hallucinating…?
I’m sorry but I just could not finish “The Unblemished”. Apparently this is NOT a book to start reading while you do not feel well. I got as far as the first (at least) “sandwich making” scene which just really grossed me out. VERY graffic. Ugh. This “kind” of horror novel is not my “cup of tea”.
and Life is at 9, Justice 10 and so on. Is that article up the creek?”
Answer: Nope. I am.
Ha! Do you need a paddle? Life jacket? Mentos?
Been thinking about a couple of things. I’m wondering if it would be useful to have a static page on the dogs, some vital statistics, which dog is which etc. In addition, maybe a static page of book/movie recommendations for SciFi & Horror, graphic novels & comics etc. What do you think? Too much work?
This is my first foray into “the book club”! I love to read …but it’s hard to find the time these days. So here goes:
I am a huge fan of horror. In fact, my Netflix queue is majorly skewed in that genre. My lifetime reading list has been well in that direction as well. One of my very first book reports in grade school was on a horrible book called “The Funhouse” and I read “The Exorcist” in 8th grade. I read mostly Stephen King and Clive Barker for the years following, at one point owning every King book published until 2001.
That being said, I found this book horrifying. Not so much for the overwhelming mayhem and matter of fact way it was described, but more because it was set in such a way that it is wholly believable. Williams knows what scares us. He unleashes and digs at just about every primal fear we humans posses.
Williams masterfully recreated his London in minute detail. Including actual place names, streets, dates and minutiae that brought the story to life amongst all of that death. He poetically lays bare the beauty of horror, much in the fashion of Clive Barker.
However, the detail is also one of my only criticisms. There was too much of it in places that didn’t bear the need for it. I don’t need to know what clothing the staring characters on the underground or bus are wearing. This detail causes the great majority of the story to be narrative…very little dialogue. I found this difficult to read simply because it really did not hold my interest for very long. I found myself browsing a few lines ahead, looking for the meaty parts. (!)
My other criticism is the lack of explanation of the missing authorities. The cops gone? Ok…maybe. But the military? Not likely. And in today’s age of instant communication, I find it highly unlikely that the rest of the world would not find it odd that London and most of England itself was just…suddenly…unavailable and not bother to investigate.
The characters were fairly well developed for the purpose of this story. Yet, I did not find myself caring about any of them. Except perhaps a little for Claire, who was seemingly the only one who did not make the bed in which she slept. And oddly enough, I even felt a little sorry for Manser.
An overwhelmingly terrifying and exciting read. Dark, visceral and captivating. Conrad Williams is an artist of the horror genre.
Any news with Paul & yourself on the comic series front? You were vision pitching last week weren’t you?
I’m curious if the writing process is any different to writing a tv script or the not so short story.
Thanks for the review of the book Joe. I had contemplated trying a BOTM horror book one of these days, but it won’t be this one. Horror is not one of my favourite genres, I’m still having flashbacks to scenes in some of the horror stories I read as a teen. All those ‘attic’ books, quite horrible in many ways but the ‘horror’ in them was horrible enough. 🙂
The Unblemished it is then, just as soon as I’ve got my computer set back up properly and my internet working on it. That little !”£$%!!! of a son-in-law did a bang up job of screwing not only my puter up but my mums and my youngests too. Needless to say eldest daughter is no longer in contact with me as she apparently prefers her father’s lifestyle to mine and the two don’t belong in the same dimension. If I’d known 12 months ago I wouldn’t have organised her wedding and my family wouldn’t have foot the bill! Ever been had?
Hi Joe, everybody *waves*
*the unsinkable Shiningwit*
un mot pour vous dire que j’ai remplacé la lecture matinale quotidienne du journal par celle de votre blogue !! C’est tout dire.
Nous sommes à revoir SA saison 4 en dvd afin de se préparer au voir ENFIN la saison 5 dont les dvd seront en ventes dans 3 semaines.
Et mille mercis à Brad et Robert pour avoir négocié la télédiffusion de Stargate Universe au CANADA en même temps qu’aux États-Unis par la chaîne SPACE.
C’était un non-sens qu’une série presque exclusivement canadienne ne soit pas vue au Canada avant plusieurs mois.
On a tous hâte à la maison de voir le fruit de vos talents respectifs.
En attendant , je suis allé voir Star Trek, excellent. On reconnaît les personnages et l’esprit de la série originale À voir.
“In the past, when I’ve selected horror novels for our little Book of the Month Club and had some respond to the effect of ‘I don‘t read horror.’, I’ve often dismissed them as unusually sensitive.”
I haven’t been here long enough to have responded that way, but I tend not to read horror for the obvious reason. I tend to find most horror too disturbing for me, and if I read something too horrific, it can give me nightmares.
This is not to say that I completely avoid the genre. I’ve read and enjoyed a few Stephen King books, and if certain friends who know my tastes recommend a book to me, I will go ahead and read it. One of those friends, Adam-Troy Castro, has written some excellent horror himself; I highly recommend his recent Stoker nominee The Shallow End of the Pool.
The irony here is that I’ve actually written horror myself, enough to be an active member of HWA. Amusingly for some, though, I find I can’t re-read my own horror stories without creeping myself out. (“The Spider in the Hairdo” was a horror/SF story I wrote a few years back for an anthology called Urban Nightmares. I still can’t go back to it because it gives me nightmares.)
Bonjour! ça va joseph? Moi super, j’ai passer une trés bonne journée, avec du soleil et de la bonne humeur!
Je me demande comment font certain pour vous posez autant de question…pourtant moi je suis trés curieuse mais je ne les dépasse pas, peut être le manque d’inspiration? non je ne pense pas je dirais plutôt la barriére de la langue^^!
Vous avez vu la tragédie aérien qui à eu lieu au large du Brésil? rolala quel catastrophe, sa doit être trés dure pour les familles.
Passez une bonne journée! Bisou
I read quite a lot of horror and rate The Unblemished as one of the best I’ve read in some time. Though the creatures were frightening, I thought the scariest character in the book was Manser because there are actually people like him in this world – psychos living in our society ready to blow.
I really liked this book. I only wish, as you pointed out, there would have been one sympathetic character in the bunch. Bo was too out there and, after a while, Sarah really began to try my patience. Even though I felt sorry for Claire, she was more of an object to be fought over than a character and I never got any sense of her personlity which made it hard to really care for her on that level. But all in all this was my only complaint.
Some of the imagery the author came up with was so bizarre that I just had to ask: This book is so full of weird scenes and imagery that for a while there I thought I’d entered Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. How did you get to “that place”? Lots of drink? Sleepless nights? Or are you a naturally nightmarish/creative imaginer?
And – What are your other books like? Would you say they’re similar in terms of gore factor?
I really need to quit blowing my book money on art supplies and vacations. And go to the library.
Watched I’m a Celebrity..Get Me Out of Here last night to support Lou Diamond Phillips (and only him) even though that Torrie person is from the town I currently live in. He became the first leader of the group — quite the natural one. Nice leadership style. And my he looks great with his shirt off. LOL. Voting is tonight (and I can’t remember when the show used to be on if you vote for your favorite to stay on, or vote the one you want to leave). He is doing this for charity in the jungles of Costa Rica. Last night, they left a live shot with him upside down at a 45-degree angle with all these bugs crawling around. Looks like he is totally zoned out into a mind-over-matter thing. He also ate a tarantula (spelling?), that big hairy spider. Real trooper. Good team player.
I’m sorry but I have to pass on the horror selection. I used to read it a lot but I made a decision not to put that stuff in my head. Watching CNN is bad enough.
Passed my belt test today (brown with black stripe) in Karate, one more belt test to black!
Dismissed me as unusually sensitive, did you?!!!! The nerve…. well, I guess I am a *little* sensitive.
I am SO glad I decided not to dabble my toes in the dark waters this time.
Well if Joe won’t answer it from me mabye he will from you(aka, thanks for posting the quesiton).
Yet another good book i will probably not get around to reading, even though the story interests me.
Darn, You need to slow down with the books Joe, toooooo fasttttt.
1. Besides Air, Earth and Life, will there be any episodes partially set on earth( you know, getting out of those sound stages for a breath of fresh air)?
2. When do you think we will be able to see some interesting SGU updates( such as MGM’s Secret Project)/ Us fans are dying for new news.
Thanks so much,
Major D. Davis
I am dismissing “unusually sensitive” as a euphemism for “wuss.” Many of us sensitive types are not only easily offended, but have tendencies toward paranoia as well. That’s one good reason for me not to read horror stories. (Such a shame, since I do love Neil Gaiman’s writing style.)
Your book review convinced me that I’m much better off working with psychotic people than letting my imagination feed on multi-page vipers’ nests of psychoses that would have my patients saying, “Get out! Really?”
Surprisingly enough, while I shy away from horror stories, I do love a good fight. Visceral. Bloody, even. Winner gets free lunch at the restaurant you were talking about a few days back (meat, yummm); loser winds up as part of a balanced breakfast at a wolf sanctuary. Fair enough? 😀
PS: Just kidding about the bloody fights. (Duh.) Gotta keep from attracting sharks.
I almost forgot: The Unblemished needs to be a movie. Preferably by Lions Gate…because they don’t flinch.
Hi Mr M:
This question is for Asleigh…..
Can you please tell us when the winner of the new cover art for SGA will be announced? I have friends that have entered the competition and we are all anxious to know whose art will be on the new cover.
PS: LOVE the pix on Twitter! :-))
I really should get in on this book of the month club. I’ve been meaning to, really, but I…well…I don’t really have a reason I haven’t. I’ll try to get in on the next one.
I don’t know if it’s really your type of book, but I’d suggest Germ by Robert Liparulo. I loved it.
I’m looking forward to SGU updates! I’m still hoping one will find its way into tonight’s (June 2) blog, as a birthday present. *hint hint wink*
How are the doggies? Everyone doing well? I enjoy their Twitter updates. Very captivating.
Trish & Narelle
OMG Bad Blood – brilliant! Loved the Oh Sh** moment at the start and the conflicting stories. Luke Wilson, yes! Plus BamBam said he did the caravan stunt.
I actually didn’t follow it from the start, my sister did. I was over at her house one night, caught it and was totally hooked. Then I had to play rapid catch-up.
Joe, Peter Williams sends his best! He enjoyed reading the May 28 post; I forwarded the link.
Chev – I still have Bad Blood on VHS somewhere from where I had to tape it the night it first aired. Showing my age there. Really should look at getting it on DVD to watch it again.
The caravan stunt was great. Apparently it’s not so easy to shoot out the tyres of an RV.
Hope all is well.
I just have one question, tho it might lead to more to one answer:
I’m trying to find on what would be engraved on John Sheppard’s dogtags. I bought a set of dogtags and would like to get it engraved. Please tell me u can help me. I know Joe wore dogtags for season 1, so it’s still got to be around.
@Trish: Bella’s doing much better… we gave her another dose of benadryl before bed and it seemed to clear it right up. and LOL about calling someone to check for monsters. Thus far it strikes me that you may be right about us having similar senses of humour 😀 perish the thought. lol.
Thanks for the well-wishes for Bella… Having sick pets is no fun – I think it’s so bad because you can’t explain what’s wrong to them.
I don’t usually read horror, no particular reason, there are just other genres which I prefer more and lately I don’t have a ton of time for just reading and so there’s other stuff I prefer.
Right now my next-to-read is Cryptonomicon.
Just one question today: what are your thoughts on the proposal to close a lane each way on the Burrard Bridge for bicycles? Do you use it often enough for it to make a difference or are you rather ambivalent?
I myself take the bridge everyday to get out to UBC so I’m really hoping that the vote falls through…
Gateworld has a picture of the winning Blu-ray cover:
Interesting article here
Some key points he mentions.
*“No one is really certain why it was cancelled,” said Flanigan*
*“If Universe is successful, the prevailing theory among the writers and producers will be that actors are dispensible and not a critical part of the show,” he said. “Only time will tell.”*
Anyways, you probably already know about this interview.. figured if you didnt, now you do.
I know, double comment but I was kinda surprised by his comments, Atlantis had a great run, it would never be an SG1 length kinda show, even SG1 ran its course for 8 seasons and was refreshed for the 9th and 10th.
Still have that bet riding on your answer, re: planned (or unplanned) leakages? Can you answer? Will you?
Still have a nifty dinner on the line for this one!
Questions for Mr. Williams –
– Where was the army while the creatures were attacking the city? In your mind, were they dealt with in the wings or had they not had the chance to mobilize yet?
– Given the, uh, open-ended nature of the book, do you foresee a sequel in your future?
Thanks Bailey. Glad we finally know even if it’s a crap decision. But whatcha gonna do? Well my plan is to print our best cover and use it in it’s place. Hmm I’ll have to get to work on the back cover. I still had fun though.
I wonder when they’ll update the official site. It still says the Top 5 will be announced next week. Good one.
See that makes no sense to me. It sorta sounds like you’re saying we should be grateful we even got 5 seasons. I feel Atlantis should have had 7 or 8 seasons. The writing, directing and performances were still strong. There were still a lot of unexplored areas. Of course I’m not paying the bills or making the creative decisions so anything I say means nothing.
Sorry if I’m coming off a bit grumpy, that dvd comp thing has me a bit p’d.
Narelle from Aus said:
What’s VHS? LOL! The DVDs have really come down in price. I’ve got all 9 seasons.
Hello Joe, any recent news on the SGA movie? Do you miss working on the SGA sets/and with the cast? Everytime I watch the 11:00 pm Friday reruns I choke up a little.