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Another fine mess

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Red Moon - Benjamin Percy Full review at http://www.bookgasm.com/reviews/horror/red-moon/#more-22760

When I heard the pitch for Benjamin Percy’s RED MOON, my leg began thumping frantically, as the story seemed to scratch an itch I didn’t know I had, provoking involuntary muscle spasms and drooling excitement.

It’s a brick of a novel, epic in scope and ambition, which weaves a thickly defined alternate history where werewolves are carefully policed and contained in — or violently resist — human culture. Lycans have long tussled against or alongside humans, but in the 20th century, they learn to control their transformations, move into our neighborhoods, become civic leaders, emerge as an assimilated minority.

The parallels to other minority groups aren’t ever subtle. Explicit hat tips to the civil rights struggles of the ’60s and more recent debates around immigration and radicalized Islam energetically aim to discomfort readers of any political stripe. There is also a Lycan territory occupied by American forces — a plot device that doesn’t just tap you on the shoulder to direct your attention to the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, but beats you about the head and neck with a stick.

It isn’t the lack of subtlety that leads me to qualify my appreciation. The counterfactual can work whether slipping in a shiv or bludgeoning you with parallel events. In the best cases (Philip K. Dick’s 1962 classic, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, or Kim Stanley Robinson’s more recent, brilliant, post-9/11 intervention, THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT), counterfactuals are like great cover songs: You constantly hear echoes of the original, but the alternate version — even a slavish, obvious repetition — makes you hear that original in utterly new ways.

That doesn’t happen here. RED MOON is too often content, in rethinking the history, to simply find and replace. All sorts of events get retooled via the simplistic insertion of Lycanthropes: Iraq, the Holocaust, the Occupy movement. Very rarely does Percy engage in any substantive play with the implications of that substitute history — the werewolf is less a vital metaphor for how we might examine those histories, listening anew to the old songs, and more just a neat high-concept bit of shtick.

My frustration is intensified because Percy is a really damn good writer. His 2010 debut, THE WILDING, took the tired tropes of the man-becoming-a-man-in-nature tale and made them fresh and exciting as hell. Such talents are amply on display in RED MOON, too. Whenever he steps away from the past and into the present tense, the guy will take your breath away...