three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-DevilsAlphabetDaryl Gregory’s previous novel, Pandemonium, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. In The Devil’s Alphabet, Gregory shows the down side of living in one particular Tennessee town.

The Story: Small-town peace and quiet are turned upside-down when Transcription Divergence Syndrome (TDS) kills a third of the inhabitants of Switchcreek, Tennessee, and transforms most of the rest into mutants: argos (gray-skinned giants), betas (seal-like people whose women get pregnant spontaneously), and charlies (the morbidly obese whose males leak a narcotic called "the vintage"). One of the few unaffected is 14-year-old Paxton Martin. After losing his mother and watching his father (a charlie) hideously changed by the disease, Paxton leaves for Chicago. Fifteen years later, following news of a friend’s death, he returns, forced to revisit the horror of his previous life—and to solve a murder.
Del Rey. 400 pages. $15. ISBN: 139780345501172.

MissionsUnknown.com 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s nice to see what [Gregory] can do to small town life just by throwing in a little sci-fi weirdness. … Just as his take on small town life has enough true-to-life flavor to feel real, so does a story that only answers a few of the questions it poses." BW Fenlon

sffworld.com 4 of 5 Stars
"Part of what I enjoyed about the book is how it slipped in and out of the related genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Overall, a solid novel that has me regretting that I have yet to read Gregory’s debut novel, Pandemonium." Rob H. Bedford

Locus 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While Gregory does an impressive job of keeping all these plates spinning without losing his narrative’s coherence, there is still a sense that a bit much is going on all at once, and that some of those plates are starting to wobble. … The larger question, of what eventually might become of these evolutionary exiles as they move into second and third generations, seems to move us back into Theodore Sturgeon territory, and it’s fortunately a territory that Gregory has mastered well." Gary K. Wolfe

SFSignal.com 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If you like character-driven near-future sf with plenty of mystery, both world-building and crime, this is absolutely the book for you. It’s well written, packs a lot into its pages, and doesn’t overstay its welcome."

Graeme’sFantasyBookReview.com 3 of 5 Stars
"Everyone has something to hide, even if they don’t realise it, and this makes for a plot full of twists and turns that isn’t afraid to send you down blind alleys when you’re least expecting it." Graeme Flory

Critical Summary

Daryl Gregory’s work, particularly his short stories, has drawn a great deal of critical attention, but he set the bar for genre-busting fiction with Pandemonium, his critically acclaimed debut. The Devil’s Alphabet follows in that vein, stirring sf, horror, and fantasy into a potent brew. Graphic imagery drives the story, and storytelling is always front and center, though Gregory has a knack for crafting strong characters. And even in a narrowly focused setting, he manages to deal with some pretty weighty philosophical questions, all while making the reader care about the development of the relationships between the characters. A writer to watch for readers jonesing for a "little sci-fi weirdness" (Missions Unknown).

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Pandemonium (2008): As a child, Del Pierce was possessed by a demon, as were a number of people in this alternate world. As he ponders whether the demon is still with him, Del tries to understand what is happening to the human race. ( 4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2008)